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Ceasefire weekends really seem to reduce violence, study of more than 6,000 Baltimore shootings finds

Between six and 10 times per year Baltimore leaders and activists rally neighborhoods and citizens behind a simple goal: Stop shooting, at least for a little while.

Ceasefire weekends have become central to Baltimore’s continuing and frustrating battle with escalating violence, shootings and murders. But do they work?

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A paper published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health says they do. Researchers examined all 6,024 shootings — fatal and non-fatal — in the city between January 2012 and July, 6, 2019, and found an average 52% drop when the Ceasefire actions were in place.

Even better, the scientific research found, there is no evidence that murders increase in other parts of the city during these respites, or that the shootings are simply delayed, spiking after they end.

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“The Baltimore Ceasefire weekends may be an effective short-term intervention for reducing gun violence,’’ the report, headed by Dr. Peter Phalen of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, concluded. “Future research should aim to understand the key components and understandability of the intervention.”

The 52% reduction in shootings on Ceasefire weekends was previously published in a Baltimore Ceasefire 365 study in June. Phalen, who wrote that study, said previously that “the true effect could be anywhere from a 32% to 66% reduction.”

While the American Journal of Public Health report focused on Baltimore, its authors also examined similar programs in Boston and Chicago. While those cities’ efforts often involved using outreach and law enforcement resources, Baltimore’s Ceasefire 365 relies strictly on a grassroots call for peace, the report said.

“Unlike any of these aforementioned initiatives, the Baltimore Ceasefire 365 movement is entirely community driven and calls for a literal stop to all violence across the city for discrete weekend-long periods — days when research suggests gun violence is heightened.”

The scientific paper includes the methodology used by its team of authors and researchers, and accounts for variables such as day of the week, hours and time of the year that could affect how often shootings occur.

The study does not factor in “specific historical events” that have seen spikes of violence or created public unrest, such as the death of Freddie Gray or the “ongoing problems within law enforcement,” such as the arrests of nearly a dozen rogue officers in recent years.

Many of the findings are obvious to anyone who has experienced Baltimore’s violent trend. At least 300 people have been killed in the city in each of the past five years, “which likely reflects the events surrounding Freddie Gray’s death,” the authors wrote.

They also noted that summer months are more deadly, and that in 2018 the introduction of “Shotspotter” technology created a sharp and “artificial” spike in reports of gunfire.

Besides Phalen, the UM doctor, authors of the final report included Erricka Bridgeford of Baltimore Ceasefire 365 and researchers from universities in New York City, Detroit and Indiana.

Bridgeford said the ceasefire weekends are one tool she and her organization use to help reduce the city’s violence.

“It [the study] means that this narrative that people have about Baltimore not wanting to heal itself and just being a place that is hopeless, that cannot possibly be true," Bridgeford said in an interview. “This shows that hundreds of people in the city are participating in this movement, where at least four times a year they are celebrating each other and committing to peace.”

Bridgeford recalled a time when 25-year-old Devante Smith was killed during a Ceasefire weekend on Feb. 7 and another woman was injured in a double shooting in the Perkins Homes apartments.

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Bridgeford said after Smith was killed she went to bless the space with sage but when she arrived found two other woman already there doing their own blessing. Now, Bridgeford says, one of the woman is seeking to join the organization.

Phalen said in an interview with the Sun that the research was helped because Baltimore “releases really good data” on victim-based crimes.

He said as the findings became clear he was moved realizing the impact Ceasefire 365 had.

“It was kind of breathtaking to see that affect just kind of pop out of the data, and impressive because this is a totally grassroots organization,” Phalen said.

Last year, Baltimore city saw 348 killings—the second highest killing toll on record. Based off his recent study, Phalen says the city will need more support in addressing the problem.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.

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