Dallas City Council Signs Off On New 'Violence Interrupter' Initiative To Reduce Crime
A new program aims to reduce violent crime in Dallas neighborhoods by developing community relationships, instead of involving police officers.
Last week, city council unanimously approved a two-year, $1.6 million contract for the "Violence Interrupters" program to be run and managed by Youth Advocate Programs Inc. (YAP).
The nonprofit will hire a 12-person team that will be made up of trained individuals from Dallas who will work to build trust in the community and defuse tensions that could lead to shootings or gang-related fights.
“We can teach someone how to be a violence interrupter, but we can't necessarily teach someone how to have credibility within our city,” said Kevin Oden, former interim director with the city's Office of Integrated Public Safety Solutions.
The "Violence Interrupters" program was a recommendation from the Mayor's Task Force on Safe Communities,’ according to a January 2020 report.
Last year, City Council voted to allocate $800,000 in funding to hire violence interrupters during the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
“We cannot and should not rely on police alone to stop the violent crime increases in our city,” said Mayor Eric Johnson in a statement.
We cannot and should not rely on police alone to stop the violent crime increases in our city.
“Violence interrupters, which were highly recommended by my Task Force on Safe Communities, will stop conflicts before they become violent and can help our people and our neighborhoods to grow and thrive."
Homicide prosecutions cost the city of Dallas over $1 million per shooting, according to a study by The National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (NICJR). The new "Violence Interrupters" program is designed to cut that cost and reduce violent crime.
The violence interrupters are credible individuals from the communities where they serve, building trust and relationships.
“We're hiring people who have a stake in the problem,” said Gary Ivory, the president of YAP.
“Many of them have been there and done that. They're formerly incarcerated and may have been involved in the system themselves. So they're able to engage and do outreach with people that other people can't.”
Three members of the 12-person team will focus on direction and administration, five will be trained violence interrupters, three will be labeled ‘credible messengers’ who will be in charge of building relationships in communities.
“We know so much violence is related to untreated trauma. So if we can address trauma, then we know we can help to reduce crime,” Ivory said.
The team also includes a licensed social worker, who will identify root causes that lead to crime in certain neighborhoods.
The new program comes as 2020 was the deadliest year in Dallas in more than 15 years. According to the Dallas Police Department, homicides this year are up 30% compared to the same time last year.
“We look at and talk about a lot of programs that are focused on emergency response and after an event has occurred, but this is certainly an investment on the front end — to divert from any types of events occurring in the future,” Oden said.
He said this is part of making long-term investments in reducing violence crime rates in the city.
Although it's a national nonprofit, YAP has worked with Dallas County’s juvenile department since 1995, primarily disrupting violence in 13-18 year-olds by offering detention alternatives to young people.
YAP also previously established similar violence interrupter programs in Baltimore and Chicago.
At the moment, the city and YAP are working to get staff hired, recruited and trained. Their first step is hiring a program manager.
The program will focus on four neighborhoods in the city where crime is high. The areas will be identified in the next two weeks, in conjunction with an update from Dallas Police Department’s violent crime reduction plan.
“I wouldn't say that you're looking at your violent crime rates or anything like that, to judge the success of this program, you're looking at individual level outcomes, to assess this program,” Oden said.
Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez is a Report For America corps member and writes about the impact of COVID-19 on underserved communities for KERA News. Email Alejandra at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @alereports.
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