Waco police and Prosper Waco leaders provided more details this week on how they would tailor a “violence interrupters” concept, used with some measure of success in Brooklyn, for Waco.
“What this is not, is a call to put members of the community in harm’s way,” Waco Police Chief Sheryl Victorian said Wednesday.
She said she does not want people to get in the middle of fights and try to break them up.
The chief said she does want to find influential community leaders who can talk younger people who may be planning violence, or retaliation, into a solution that does not involve fists, knives or firearms.
“When we looked into it, we found out that when this was done in other places, people got paid,” Victorian said.
So, her department reached out to local community organizations and nonprofits to partner.
The chief said the department has found a partner in Prosper Waco.
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Prosper Waco CEO Suzii Paynter March said the nonprofit has a proven track record for finding programs and policies that have worked successfully in other places and finding grants to bring them to Waco.
“We have applied for a Department of Justice grant to pay for four to five (interrupters) and also some case managers,” March said Thursday.
March said Waco has the will to make a program like this work and that even if Prosper Waco does not get the Justice Department grant, her team will find other grants to pay for the effort.
Violence interrupter programs or similar approaches have been studied in Chicago, Brooklyn, Baltimore, Phoenix and Pittsburg, with varying levels of success and failure, Baylor University professor Patrick Flavin said. Research written up in “Annual Review of Public Health” in 2015 cites studies in these cities.
Results in Chicago showed that violence interrupter staff were essential to carry the antiviolence message, the research states.
In Brooklyn, a reversal of the trend in gun crime in the program neighborhood as compared with other neighborhoods was seen as possible evidence for the program’s effectiveness, the research states.
A study in Pittsburg found that a lack of staff whose sole function was to interrupt conflicts and prevent potential retaliation prevented success.
Victorian and March both talked about selecting community influencers as paid violence interrupters who have previously lived a violent life and are now turning away from violence.
The chief said her department wants violence interrupters who have known that life, who have lived that life, who will know the people to talk with, to turn youth away from violence.
March said it is important to “find people with lived experience.”
She also said she wants to reward people for their ability to negotiate and bring resilience to youth.
Prosper Waco will know in three to five weeks whether the Department of Justice awarded them the requested grant, March said.
“It’s too bad we have to compete for it,” March said.