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Despite mixed results, CeaseFire says ‘We’re making progress’

June 2012: Police to partner with CeaseFire on anti-violence pilot program
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Updated: April 9, 2013 11:44AM

Gang members were battling last year outside a liquor store on the Southeast Side, and CeaseFire — the anti-violence group with a new $1 million contract from the city — stepped into the fray.

CeaseFire brokered an unusual peace treaty: One member of each gang would buy liquor for the whole group, eliminating the stream of rivals bumping into each other at the store at 63rd and Vernon in the Woodlawn neighborhood.

Tio Hardiman, director of CeaseFire Chicago, said the truce is an example of the creative strategies his group is employing to stop shootings. There were no murders in the police beats where CeaseFire works in Woodlawn in January and February, he said.

“I will give the police credit because they are out there all the time as well,” Hardiman said. “But we’re making progress. It was a good investment.”

Hardiman acknowledged that CeaseFire continues to walk a fine line between the police and the residents.

“We cannot be seen as being too close to the cops,” he said.

His managers talk to the police about where they’re mediating conflicts, but don’t discuss names or other specifics.

“The biggest problem is who is going to get credit for the violence reductions,” Hardiman said. “CeaseFire is not concerned about the credit. But we definitely want to be mentioned as part of the strategy.”

He added: “I think the relationship with the police department has room for growth.”

Chicago Police Department spokesman Adam Collins responded that the police and CeaseFire have a shared goal of reducing violence.

“CPD district command staff meets weekly with Ceasefire workers to discuss trends and emerging issues and will continue to do so while evaluating the effectiveness of their efforts in our neighborhoods,” Collins said.

Privately, though, some police officials worry about the fact that many CeaseFire workers are ex-offenders. At least six people have been charged with committing crimes while on CeaseFire’s payroll over the past five years.

Hardiman said the police have been doing background checks on prospective CeaseFire employees to root out anyone still involved in crime.

A dozen CeaseFire staff members began working in October in Woodlawn under the one-year contract with the city. Another 12 staffers started in North Lawndale on the West Side.

Outreach workers keep tabs on “high-risk” residents — including known shooters, recent parolees and young men ages 16 to 25 — and direct them toward school, jobs and social services.

Violence interrupters, meanwhile, keep their ears to the street for information about brewing conflicts, which they try to mediate, Hardiman said. They’re most effective in stopping gang squabbles from escalating into violence, he said.

Under the city contract, CeaseFire operates in two police beats in Woodlawn and two beats in North Lawndale. The Woodlawn beats showed a decline in killings and non-fatal shootings, but the North Lawndale beats had an upswing.

In the Woodlawn beats, there were three murders and seven non-fatal shootings between October and February, compared to four killings and 12 non-fatal shootings a year earlier.

In the North Lawndale beats, there were three murders and nine non-fatal shootings between October and February, compared to one killing and five shootings a year earlier.

“It was kind of rough for us at the end of the year in the North Lawndale, but violence has dramatically decreased since then,” Hardiman said.

The Rev. Robin Hood, program manager of CeaseFire’s office in North Lawndale, said two of the recent murders there were almost impossible for the group to stop.

In one of them, a man was lured from another neighborhood to North Lawndale where he was robbed and killed. Another man was killed in a drug deal gone bad, Hood said.

“We couldn’t get in front of those,” he said.

But after those two slayings, CeaseFire was able to cool off the victims’ family and friends to prevent retaliatory violence, Hood said.

From October through January, CeaseFire conducted 20 such mediations in North Lawndale and 12 in Woodlawn, Hardiman said.

“It’s hard to believe, but the average age of one of our problem guys is 14,” Hood said.

Because of their regular presence in the neighborhoods, CeaseFire workers become involved in unusual situations, Hardiman said.

On Nov. 16, for example, violence interrupters prevented armed men from entering Penn Elementary at 16th and Avers, Hood said. Assistant Principal Chinyere Okafor-Conley wrote to CeaseFire, thanking the group.

Another time, CeaseFire workers located a 13-year-old girl who “ran away” with a 26-year-old man. The girl was the granddaughter of a Chicago Police official, Hardiman said. He said a police commander returned the girl to her family.

Hardiman didn’t know whether the man was arrested.

“That’s outside of the lines of what we normally do, but we’re here to help,” he said.

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