Rising Community Violence Blog
The violence interrupter strategy is a unique approach that enables individuals who have had experiences with gangs and violence to act as mentors and guides to at-risk youth. It provides a way to build trust and rapport with young people who may resist law enforcement efforts.
Tamika Horne’s son Nyreek was shot in the head while playing basketball near their home in Rocky Mount. He was only 12 years old. His injury was so severe that doctors thought he would be paralyzed and non-responsive for the rest of his life. However, Nyreek started showing signs of improvement after just three months. Nyreek has taught his mother the importance of holding onto hope, even in the darkest of times. Despite their challenges, Tamika has a reason to smile every day because of her son’s strength and courage.
The question of whether violent crime rates are rising is complicated. For example, in 2020, the United States saw a 30% increase in murder rates and a 10% jump in assaults. However, the murder rate remained flat in 2021 and declined slightly in 2022. Jeff Asher, a national expert in criminal justice data, published a piece in The Atlantic revealing that murder is down about 12 percent year-to-date in more than 90 cities that have released data for 2023, compared with data as of the same date in 2022. Of course, no mother is focused on the question of rates. Tamika worries about the safety of other children. She hopes that by sharing her story, she can raise awareness about the impact of violence on families and communities and inspire others to take action to end it.
The Cabarrus County program, known as Project SAFE Cabarrus, was initiated in the mid-2000s to address violent crime rates in the area. It is a collaborative effort on behalf of federal and state law enforcement agencies designed to improve the quality of life for all residents of Cabarrus County by supporting a comprehensive strategy to address illegal gun, gang, and violent crime throughout the county. Project SAFE Cabarrus allows law enforcement agencies to identify the small number of people causing the most problems in the community. The program is designed to help repeat offenders make life-changing choices by helping them to put down their guns and take advantage of help from community resources or face the consequences of law enforcement.
The program has helped to reduce violent crime by 60%, leading to its recognition by federal authorities as a model to be replicated in other regions. Project SAFE Cabarrus offers solutions such as community-based programs and partnerships with law enforcement officials to former prison inmates identified in the community. The program also assists former inmates in reintegrating into society by providing incentives, career centers, and access to necessary documents and IDs.
In another model of combatting community violence, Robeson County launched the “Colors of Life” program, incorporating the “Violence Interrupter” strategy to tackle gang violence in schools. The program is based on successes in urban areas such as Chicago and Baltimore and is a relatively new approach for rural areas. The program involves using violence interrupters, often ex-gang members, to engage with youth and prevent conflicts from escalating. The initiative also involves a mentorship program. Retired football coach Mike Brill recruits student-athletes, and the violence interrupters guide them toward alternative programs. Jadarion Chatman, a former gang member, credits the program and violence interrupter, Leon Burton, for changing his life, as he was headed down a troubling path before their intervention. Additional support for the program in Robeson County comes from the NC Youth Violence Prevention Center.
Community violence calls for a community-wide response. Project SAFE Cabarrus is part of a federal program where local law enforcement agencies partner with federal officials to address gun violence. Law enforcement identifies high-risk individuals. However, even if a former inmate commits a new crime, the broader community continues to work with them and offers a second chance to help them turn their lives around. Through its initiatives, Project SAFE Cabarrus has significantly contributed to reducing violent crime in the area and has supported former inmates as they reintegrate into society.
Project SAFE Cabarrus makes clear the need to focus on those most likely to commit crimes. It also indicates the need to redirect those committing violent crimes by meeting a multitude of social needs. The program’s data shows promising results.
The violence interrupter strategy is a unique approach that enables individuals who have had experiences with gangs and violence to act as mentors and guides to at-risk youth. It provides a way to build trust and rapport with young people who may resist law enforcement efforts. The Colors of Life program is an example of a community-driven, evidence-based approach that can make a real difference in the lives of young people and prevent them from falling into a life of gang violence.