ST. LOUIS — The city of St. Louis is considering a new effort to combat violent crime modeled after Cure Violence, a program that began in Chicago and aims to interrupt conflict and change the culture in crime-afflicted neighborhoods.
The Board of Aldermen’s budget committee voted June 3 to recommend moving $500,000 out of the proposed police overtime budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The money would be used to launch Cure Violence, or a similar crime reduction program. The recommendation now goes to the city’s top fiscal body, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, made up of Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, Mayor Lyda Krewson and Comptroller Darlene Green. The estimate board and the full Board of Aldermen must agree on a budget by the end of this month.
If the money makes it into the final budget, Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards said he will decide “what, if any” program for improving public safety is launched in the city.
“I am very interested in programs that assist us with addressing the violence,” Edwards said. “It’s very complex; it requires a lot of solutions. I know we’re not going to arrest ourselves to public safety, so we have to look at alternatives to assist with crime prevention.”
Cure Violence has been implemented in various forms in other large U.S. cities, including Philadelphia, Kansas City, Baltimore and New York. Its advocates in St. Louis, including Reed, say the initiative has proved successful. A team of Cure Violence global staff members will visit St. Louis starting June 18 for a three-day meeting and assessment. The plan is to answer questions about the program from government officials and community leaders.
Marcus McAllister, a Cure Violence training specialist, said the program’s approach to violence in urban areas mimics the way a government might respond to a disease epidemic: interrupt potential violence, reach out to people at the highest risk for committing violence and change the culture of the community to improve long-term outcomes.
“The main predictor of a violent event is something that happened beforehand,” McAllister said. “Violence makes more violence. If you look at it like a disease, you want to change the behavior and you want to change the norms associated with that to stop the spread (of violence). Like any outbreak, violence happens in clusters.”
The key, McAllister said, is hiring and training people who are from the afflicted neighborhoods to become agents of change.
“We use credible messengers from the community that have relationships with people and can talk to people,” McAllister said. “They’re all paid staff, they’re all trained, and they have an office, and they start to do things to change the culture of the neighborhood … to stop the epidemic of violence.”
Reed said he is interested in combining components of the Cure Violence method with components of a Boston-born program called Operation Ceasefire, but nothing is set in stone.
“The data shows that we have to do something different,” Reed said. “We will bury more people every year if we don’t do something different. Everyone working on this issue is doing the best they can with the information they have and the resources they have.
“But (Cure Violence and others) are very large programs that have been measured by the Justice Department, and they really can’t be compared to some of the things we’re doing locally because there isn’t a program in the city right now that’s coordinating with all the nonprofits, with the police department, with the courts system, that is providing a common platform across all agencies, and that is using data to drive policy.”
There were 77 homicides this year in the city of St. Louis through June 6, according to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department — four more than the same period last year. Alderman Marlene Davis, an advocate for Cure Violence during the June 3 committee meeting, said she was impressed by the residents who came to speak in favor of Cure Violence during an earlier public hearing.
“They came prepared, they’d done their research, and they are committed,” Davis said at the meeting. “I’ve had the opportunity since that public hearing to speak with leading organizations in St. Louis, and they’re willing to support this initiative as well with additional resources coming from their agencies.”
Krewson said Friday in an interview that her administration would consider Cure Violence and other programs aimed at reducing violent crime.
“We’re assessing this; we certainly are going to look at violence-prevention alternatives, whether that’s Cure Violence or something else,” she said.
She declined to say how she would vote at the estimate board meeting on the $500,000 sought by the aldermanic committee. She said, however, that she opposes the panel’s request to reduce the police overtime amount. Because of the shortage of officers, she said, overtime money is crucial. “We have to have police officers on the street,” she said.
Still, she said, she does “support the exploration of violence prevention” programs.
Mark Schlinkmann of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this story.