Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency awarded two anti-violence grants to Philadelphia. The first invites Philly into the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, and includes a $20,000 planning grant. The second is $1.5 million that will fund Philadelphia CeaseFire—our local branch of the anti-gun program—over three years. The money is arriving just in the nick of time: CeaseFire ran out of funds way back in the spring after stretching a start-up grant out for two years.
CeaseFire sends outreach workers with roots in target communities and experience in gun culture—in other words, reformed criminals—to defuse potentially deadly situations. In the parlance of the program, which views gun violence as a disease, the outreach workers “interrupt” the spread of gun violence through direct action. They try to talk people out of retaliating.
In 2010, when Philadelphia Ceasefire received start-up funding from the state, they set up shop in Strawberry Mansion—technically, the 22nd District’s police service area designated PSA2—because it had one of the worst homicide rates in the city. The pilot program showed promise. “We saw about a 36, 37 percent decrease in homicide by handgun in our target area,” says CeaseFire Director Marla Davis-Bellamy. The positive effect appears to have rippled out, too. The neighborhood just south of the target area, PSA4, “saw a decrease of 70 percent during the fiscal year July 1-June 30.”
But at the start of the summer, amid reports of a spike in violence—Memorial Day weekend alone saw 27 shooting victims and six homicides—no one was funding the city’s premier evidence-based violence-prevention program. In June, the United States Conference of Mayors, of which Mayor Nutter is president, officially endorsed the CeaseFire model. Yet the $1 million initially proposed by Nutter for the program was then chopped to $200,000 by City Council, and that money remains untouched. To keep CeaseFire going, Temple University’s School of Medicine quietly picked up the slack and supported the program—based in the school’s Center for Bioethics, Urban Health and Policy—through the summer.
Now, the $20,000 in Justice Department money may be used to analyze how to spend that $200,000 in an effort to specifically address youth violence, according to Michael Resnick, the city’s director of public safety. “We know there are a lot of city agencies and contractors ... doing different things around youth violence prevention, but we really haven’t taken a coordinated look at it. Maybe we need to see [youth-violence prevention] as something distinct from our overall crime-fighting plan.”
After accidental injury, homicide is the leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Of the 318 homicides in Philadelphia last year, 154 victims were 25 years old or younger.