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CeaseFire Shooting Blanks? Anti-Violence Program Questioned

Chicago has a problem. It involves lead bullets and bodies. While the city has always had murders and murderers, the spike in shootings over the past summer was alarming and demanded action.

With lives at stake, the city took a throw it at the wall and see what sticks approach. They razed buildings that served as stash houses and crash pads for criminals. They closed down businesses that attracted gang crime. The Nation of Islam even joined the fight briefly.

One of the more controversial acts was to provide funding for CeaseFire, a non-profit that sends reformed gangsters into the hood to mediate gang disputes. They operate outside the supervision of the police department in order to gain trust. They do not enforce laws. Rather, they mediate disputes before they escalate into violence.

Sounds great. But does it work?

The Sun-Times' Political Blog cites a 2007 audit that questioned the program's effectiveness. The state provided $13 million in funding and wanted to know where it was going. While two areas covered by CeaseFire's staff showed a remarkable 70 and 73 percent drop in murders, 7 of the district's 15 other areas showed greater drops.

Another Sun-Times piece discussed present day concerns. An unnamed police official stated that three months after CeaseFire received $1 million on funding, they have "no significant success stories."

Ouch. The same source went on to complain that CeaseFire would claim credit for resolved disputes weeks after they happened. CeaseFire's director, Tio Hardiman, complained about insufficient communication with the police department but assured that his organization has been effective "to a degree."

Sounds promising.

Effective or not, CeaseFire will soon have to prove its worth to the department. They will be invited to CompStat meetings, where the higher-ups in the police department discuss crime stats, to discuss specific successes. Considering their present status as a pilot program, the future of their city funding could depend on these meetings.

Then again, consider what amounts to a success for this group. If someone is murdered, it shows up on the news and in police statistics. If a dispute is resolved amicably, where is the proof? It's not like one drug dealer is going to shoot another in the knee and say, "if it wasn't for CeaseFire, you'd be dead."

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