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Monday letters: How CeaseFire can do more to calm Chicago

CeaseFire assists Chicago Police investigating the shooting of a 7-year-old in the Morgan Park neighborhood in 2015. | Sun-Times file photo

At CeaseFire Illinois, our mission is simple but not easy. We are dedicated to helping reduce the number of homicides and shootings in Chicago and across the state.

In his Aug. 5 opinion piece, “Get behind CeaseFire to reduce Chicago violence,” James O’Shea accurately wrote that CeaseFire, the local partner of Cure Violence, “alone can’t solve the gun violence that tarnishes the city’s global reputation.” We know that solving the problem requires the Chicago Police Department, other city and state agencies, as well as community organizations.

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We respect and appreciate Chicago law enforcement officers; we are simply doing different work. Police officers’ primary duty is to deal with people who have crossed a legal line. CeaseFire violence interrupters and outreach workers work intensively with individuals to keep them from crossing that line and eventually guide them as far away from the line as possible.

As O’Shea noted, ex-offenders are used in some of this work because they are the ones who can gain access to and the trust of individuals involved in the violence. Public health methods like ours always require credible messengers who have this trust. We provide all of our workers with intensive training and support so they become specialists in intervention and behavior change.

A Sun-Times editorial compared police “intervention teams” to the work of CeaseFire. While the goals are the same — to reduce the numbers of killings and shootings — the important difference in the CeaseFire method is that it works from the inside out. We train people from within the communities to do the heavy lifting of interrupting violence and changing norms. The results of this approach were well summarized in O’Shea’s opinion piece.

Multiple independent evaluations have confirmed CeaseFire’s approach as effective at reducing violence even in the toughest neighborhoods. But our work requires much more consistent funding. CeaseFire has endured three state budget cuts since 2007 and had to cut service down from 15 neighborhoods to two. Chicago lost 100 CeaseFire violence interrupters and outreach workers in March 2015 due to budget cuts, and the city is on track to suffer more than 600 people killed this year, a number unseen since 2003.

O’Shea is correct — we Chicagoans do deserve better. With permanent funding, CeaseFire and its community partners can help law enforcement ensure that residents on the South and West Sides can live, work and play more safely. We would like to help more, but that cannot happen until those who are in control of the budgets make the safety of all neighborhoods a very high priority, and together we do all that we can.

Mark Payne

Executive Director

CeaseFire Illinois