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'Operation Safe Streets' to expand westward

The Baltimore Sun

Operation Safe Streets, a program run by the city Health Department to prevent violence through community outreach, will expand to an area in the western part of the city, Mayor Sheila Dixon and Health Commissioner Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein announced yesterday.

Since June, the program has been implemented in parts of the McElderry Park and Madison East neighborhoods. The specific location of the new area has not been determined, but it will be in West or Southwest Baltimore and will be determined by homicide and shooting statistics, Dixon said.

Operation Safe Streets employs community outreach workers to organize anti-crime marches and rallies and pass out fliers. Workers also help residents take General Educational Development tests, get jobs or substance abuse treatment and try to steer community members on a path away from crime.

"People talk about all the things we need to do to reduce crime," Dixon said. "This is what's going to make an impact, now and in the future."

The program's new site will be staffed by Communities Organized to Improve Life, a nonprofit organization that provides similar services to teenagers and young adults in Southwest Baltimore. The city will give the organization $382,600 to fund the site, money that originally comes from a $1.4 million U.S. Department of Justice grant that the Health Department received in 2005.

The East Baltimore site, which is bordered by Monument and Fayette streets to the north and south and Linwood and Patterson Park avenues to the east and west, has been implemented by the Living Classrooms Foundation. The site has five community outreach workers.

The workers organize protest marches every time there is a shooting in the community and celebratory marches when the area goes 30 days without one, said Jerrod Lewis, the violence-prevention coordinator. They had just celebrated a month without shootings the day before two police officers were shot at Orleans and North Port streets July 30 while responding to an illegal gambling call.

"We've only been in existence for two months," Lewis said, pointing out that half of that time went by shooting-free. "It's going to take some time." The program is based on a Chicago initiative called CeaseFire, which has been in place since 2000.

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