Chicago Drops CeaseFire from Anti-Violence Strategy

October 17, 2013

The city of Chicago has cut funding for a model anti-violence program, deciding to focus instead on community policing and other strategies to combat the city’s high murder rate.

The program, CeaseFire, sends former gang members into targeted neighborhoods to defuse conflicts before they erupt into violence. FRONTLINE featured some of the CeaseFire operators earlier this year in The Interrupters, tracking their efforts to intervene in gang violence, stopping revenge shootings and curbing fights.

Ceasefire Illinois is the local branch of a national initiative called Cure Violence, which was founded in 1995 by Dr. Gary Slutkin, who approached violence as a public health threat not unlike a contagious disease that can be eradicated. It now operates in cities across the U.S. and overseas that are plagued by violent crime, from Oakland, Calif. to New Orleans to Baltimore in the U.S., as well as in Mexico, Iraq and the U.K.

Last year, the city of Chicago signed a one-year contract with CeaseFire Illinois to cover two new neighborhoods, Lawndale and Woodlawn, in addition to the 19 other communities its interrupters were patrolling in the city using state and foundation funding. By its own assessment, CeaseFire cut shootings in these two neighborhoods by nearly 38 percent and killings by almost 29 percent.

Chicago has been working to decrease violence in the city, which reported 500 murders in 2012, according to newly released FBI statistics. The violence is concentrated primarily in African-American neighborhoods, and spills from about 600 gang factions that have splintered from about 60 established gangs in the city, Chicago police have said. Most of the deaths are young black men who have been murdered by their peers.

Last year, the city announced a spate of new initiatives, including harsher penalties for gang members and a database for law enforcement to track shifting gang alliances, as well as the CeaseFire partnership.

But CeaseFire had at times a tense relationship with Chicago police officers, who were wary of collaborating closely with people they’d arrested in the past. Last year, Chicago police said they’d received tips that some interrupters had slipped back into criminal activity. Tio Hardiman, CeaseFire’s Illinois director, told FRONTLINE at the time that six of CeaseFire’s 300 outreach workers and interrupters had returned to crime.

CeaseFire had another setback when Hardiman himself was arrested and charged with domestic violence this summer. The charges were later dropped. Hardiman has since left CeaseFire and is currently running for governor of Illinois.

Josh Gryniewicz, a CeaseFire spokesman, said Hardiman’s arrest wasn’t a factor in the city’s decision not to renew the contract, which ended in September. “The contract expired,” he said in an email. “The charges against Mr. Hardiman did not have any bearing on the decision.”

CeaseFire Illinois will continue to operate its other sites in the city, even as it withdraws from Lawndale and Woodlawn. In a statement on its website, CeaseFire said it hoped the funding “gaps” would only be temporary.

But its contract with the city isn’t expected to be renewed, said Bill McCaffrey, a city spokesman. He didn’t provide a reason why, although said that it wasn’t about Hardiman’s charges. “I’m positive that had nothing to do with it,” he said.

Brian Richardson, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Public Health, said the grant was only a one-year project.

“While CeaseFire fulfilled their obligations, the city’s overall violence reduction strategy is comprehensive and fluid, and includes specific policing tactics, as well as a return to community policing and a close partnership between CPD and the community,” he said in an e-mailed statement. He said that the city could still choose to work with CeaseFire in the future.

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