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Chicago police turn to CeaseFire for help reducing gang violence

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Chicago police are implementing a new gang enforcement strategy. They are embracing a group called CeaseFire that employs ex-cons to mediate gang disputes.

"CeaseFire's role is to stop guys from going to jail and stop guys from going to the cemetery," said CeaseFire's Tio Hardiman. "We try to stop violence on the front end."

The theory behind CeaseFire is that ex-offenders -- people who have been on the streets -- in the gangs may be best positioned to sniff out and stop the shooting before it starts.

However valid the concept, the city has been hesitant to fund CeaseFire because of who it hires, which is why this comment from the Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy Tuesday represents a shift in philosophy: "We're going to take CeaseFire to another level and tie it into our violence reduction strategy."

An expanded role for CeaseFire will require some measure of funding, which would be a first for the city. The mayor Wednesday chose to not talk specifics.

"We're gonna use all parts of our arsenal to deal with gangs, and CeaseFire is a component of that," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "It is not the strategy. It's a piece of the overall strategy."

How that piece comes together is still in the midst of a birthing process, though CeaseFire hopes to build its staff and have an impact in Woodlawn, Roseland, North Lawndale and Little Village -- all neighborhoods will live with considerable gang violence.

The award winning documentary The Interrupters has helped bring a higher profile to CeaseFire's efforts as far as the group's mediation director Hardiman sees it. But the mission remains unchanged, and so is the challenge: Head off the conflict before the trigger is pulled.

"Who else could you have to go into a dark basement, no lights at all, three or four guys who may have guns, or may be dropping pills?" said Hardiman. Who else you gonna get to go into those types of situations?"

CeaseFire and police officials were to meet Wednesday afternoon to begin discussions of how to set up a partnership. Just exactly how that takes shape is not yet clear. The mayor and police superintendent Tuesday said that it may come together next week.

But, obviously, with three quarters of the city's homicide rate considered gang-related, and police trying a variety of things to stay ahead of retaliatory shootings, CeaseFire's involvement is seen as a means of cooling the temperature and stopping the shooting on the front end.

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