City, Hopkins to expand Safe Streets intervention program

Baltimore's Board of Estimates Wednesday morning was expected to approve funds to expand the Safe Streets violence intervention program into a new neighborhood, and officials say there could be an additional two new sites by 2013. 

The Safe Streets program, modeled on Chicago's CeaseFire initiative, involves hiring ex-offenders and gang members to mediate conflicts and prevent gun violence. They know who's responsible for the violence and work to get in their corner, but in order to maintain credibility on the street they cann't share what they know with with police or city officials. 

In Baltimore, Safe Streets operates in McElderry Park and Cherry Hill, and officials say it has been successful in those places, reducing gun violence by 30 to nearly 60 percent. But there have been bumps along the way - two other sites, in Union Square and Madison-East End, didn't work out, and workers have been victims of violence or returned to criminal activity. 

"This is hard work, and it's an ongoing process," said Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the city's Health Commissioner. "Maintaining fideltiy to that original model is the most critical aspect for success."

Daniel W. Webster, a Johns Hopkins professor who has studied Safe Streets, said the expansion will allow the program to be more successful by allowing the mediators to network.

"In Chicago, they had their greatest success when operating in the largest number of neighborhoods," Webster said in an interview. "A city will be most effective if it has more violence interrupters in more hot spots."

Baltimore last fall received $2.2 million from the U.S. Department of Justice to expand the program to two new sites, and the city has put out a request for proposals looking for community groups to run the first one. 

Areas in consideration for the new sites, based on the number of shootings and homicides in recent years, include Carrollton Ridge, Belair-Edison, Clifton-Berea, Sandtown-Winchester and Brooklyn-Curtis Bay, among others. A full list can be found on the request for proposals

Separately, Johns Hopkins University's Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence has received funding to start a similar program in Park Heights, Webster said. It could be up and running by the spring, he said.

Here's an evaluation of the program from Hopkins:

Safe Streets Evaluation 1-11-12

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