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Crime reduction program to hit St. Louis streets by spring

Crime reduction program to hit St. Louis streets by spring

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ST. LOUIS — Leaders here are betting on a national violence prevention model to stem the tide of murders in the city. They hope to launch the program, called Cure Violence, as soon as March in three troubled city neighborhoods.

But the city won’t run the program itself, and neither will Cure Violence. Instead, leaders are looking to contract with local entities such as Washington University's Institute of Public Health, or a nonprofit organization like the Urban League or Better Family Life.

A city committee is evaluating proposals, officials said; they aim to select a program operator by year's end.

“We hope for a serious reduction in violent crime,” Mayor Lyda Krewson said.

St. Louis has seen 173 homicides so far in 2019, the vast majority of those committed with guns. Fourteen children have been killed, 13 by guns. City officials have felt the pressure to take drastic action to quell the bloodshed. 

Chicago-based Cure Violence Global has been touted by advocates as a research-proven method of bringing down shootings in cities across the country. The city announced in early November that the first Cure Violence centers will be launched in the Wells-Goodfellow/Hamilton Heights, Walnut Park West and East, and Dutchtown neighborhoods, chosen for their rates of assault and homicide.

In each of those designated spots, a group of about 10 violence interrupters — hired locally and trained in conflict mediation — will establish relationships with high-risk individuals and discourage retaliation.

Krewson said she's also hoping to connect the local Cure Violence program with "wraparound services," in health, drugs and employment, for instance.

“So it’s more than just interrupting violence, though that is the crux of the matter,” Krewson said.

In August, after an especially violent summer, Krewson sent a letter to Comptroller Darlene Green asking to invoke the comptroller’s emergency powers and execute a contract with the nonprofit, bypassing the city’s lengthy contract selection process. Green set aside $500,000 in emergency funds.

In September, city officials signed a $125,000 contract, which now runs through October 2020, for Cure Violence Global consultants to provide “training and technical assistance” during the program’s launch in St. Louis.

Since then, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment has added $1.5 million for the program, and the Board of Aldermen approved a $5 million ordinance for a Cure Violence program. The money is intended to fund Cure Violence in St. Louis for the coming three years.

And if the model stacks up with its reputation, Reed said he'd support spending even more, and adding centers to more neighborhoods.

It is unclear if the $125,000 contract with Cure Violence Global includes the training required in all three neighborhoods. Reed said it does. A Cure Violence official, Marcus McAllister, said it doesn't.

The city did not bid out the original contract.

Officials said the comptroller’s emergency powers supersede that requirement.

City professional services policies require competitive bidding for agreements worth more than $50,000. 

But City Counselor Julian Bush questioned whether Cure Violence was a professional service, as defined by city rules.

The city’s health department will manage the contract, but won’t directly run the program.

That’s the missing piece of the puzzle — the city needs to contract with a local organization, or organizations, to carry out Cure Violence programs in St. Louis neighborhoods. Cure Violence Global will train local workers and consult on management throughout the program.

Representatives of the Urban League and Better Family Life said they’re open to running the program. Washington University officials did not comment.

Reed is eager to get going.

“We’re burying 200 people a year, and this year there’s 13, 14 kids dead — shot dead in the streets of St. Louis,” Reed said. “We’re still one of the top most violent cities in the country."

"We want to deploy a new methodology," Reed said. "We want a new recipe.”

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