YouTube video

TRNN examines the nationally acclaimed homicide prevention program “Operation Ceasefire” amid allegations Baltimore is not funding the crucial outreach component that provides a critical escape to at-risk populations

Story Transcript

VIDEO CLIPS JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Operation Ceasefire. It’s a highly touted program that helps prevent homicides in some of America’s deadliest cities, including right here in Baltimore. Since last June, it’s been credited with the double-digit decline in homicides in Baltimore’s Western District. ~~~ During the state’s city address, the mayor started talking about a different approach to combat crime. It’s called Operation Ceasefire. It uses community, social services, and law enforcement together to effect change on a very targeted population. –was given the opportunity to get out of the game. He didn’t, so police took him down. It is a fairly small number of criminals in Baltimore that cause a large amount of the violent crime. ~~~ NOOR: But some community members, counsel people, and policy experts are asking what is the cost of this success and whether the way the program is being implemented here in Baltimore may actually do more harm than good. CLAYTON GUYTON, DIRECTOR, ROSE STREET COMMUNITY CENTER: Once he explained the whole process and how it worked, then he dropped the bombshell on it. He said there’s no money for the social side. There’s only money for policing side. NOOR: When the mayor’s office and police department didn’t grant us an interview for the story, we reached out to Daniel Webster, a leading gun violence prevention expert in Baltimore. DANIEL WEBSTER, DIR., JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR GUN POLICY AND RESEARCH: I’ve been studying gun violence for almost 25 years, and one of the most unique things about it is it really looks like a contagious process. It’s one reason why public health and public health models are very relevant to both understanding the problem and figuring out what to do about it. So what this focused deterrence model of the Ceasefire program, after you identify who these individuals are, you come with credible ability to use the criminal justice system to come down on them if they are violent. But that’s not really the purpose. The purpose is behavior change. We want to stop the violence. NOOR: Webster says addressing violence through the war on drugs has proven to simply not work. ~~~ WEBSTER: I think it’s useful that you point out sort of as a reference point a very important reference point for Baltimore, which is the sort of war-on-drugs approach. I’ve been working in Baltimore, studying and examining different efforts to reduce gun violence since 1992. And for most of that time period, the mindset, particularly with law enforcement, was really the drugs are driving the problem of violence; therefore the solution to lowering our problem with violence will be by addressing those drug markets, principally, individuals who are selling and profiting from drugs. But that has not proven to be a particularly effective strategy, a very costly strategy, incarcerating. NOOR: And some would call it a failed strategy. WEBSTER: Yes, I would call it a failed strategy as well. ~~~ NOOR: Operation Ceasefire’s creator, David Kennedy, describes its success to date in Baltimore’s Western District. DAVID KENNEDY: It really could not be implemented with higher quality. And the results on the ground show it. So the first call-in in the Western District is the first of these face-to-face engagements with the group members was in June of last year, June 2014. And since then what we call group member involved homicides, the core street killings that this is directed at, have gone down on the order of 80 percent. NOOR: Experts like Kennedy and Webster agree the focus must be on providing alternatives. WEBSTER: All the research suggests that the most effective public safety strategies is the combination of deterrence focus, focused deterrence on enforcement, with complementary behavioral interventions and strategies that support a long-term behavior change. NOOR: Councilperson Nick Mosby, who’s concerned about the lack of economic opportunities for at-risk communities in Baltimore, takes it a step further. NICK MOSBY, BALTIMORE CITY COUNCILMAN, 7TH DISTRICT: I think that’s a critical piece, because there could be negative consequences if you don’t really offer them the care to actually move out of the system. I mean, a lot of these folks have generational impact from the standpoint from social economics, to jobless, to education, to things in the criminal justice system. They have so many barriers a lot of times. NOOR: The Rose Street Community Center works in the Eastern District, where Baltimore plans to expand Ceasefire in the upcoming weeks and months. The area has poverty and unemployment rates nearing double the city average. For years, the organization has succeeded in intervening to reduce murders and violence in the community. Director Clayton Guyton says, in a private conversation a city official told him there was no money for the social services component of Ceasefire. GUYTON: Once he explained the whole process and how it worked, then he dropped the bombshell on it. He said there’s no money for the social side. There’s only money for the policing side. So, in other words, they do the call-in, bring guys in from the community, sit down, and threaten them with jail time if certain things happen in the community. But I have a strongly different opinion, because now you’re setting guys up to go back to jail. And he said that he’d been trying to get the social side or the rehabilitation side funded for two years. And the city keeps saying they don’t have any money. NOOR: City Hall and the Baltimore Police Department did not grant us an interview to address the concerns of a lack of funding for outreach services. But David Kennedy said he’s familiar with such concerns. KENNEDY: The city does have the resources. And what I’m about to say is in no way a criticism of Baltimore. It’s just the way this works in every city across the country, which is every city with any degree of integrity has a large volume of general resources, state and local resources, nonprofit resources, volunteer resources flowing to this problem. And what you find in practice is they are not usually properly configured for this core street population. The very small number of mostly young men who are today driving this, there will be lots and lots of resources for, say, general reentry services. There will be lots of resources for young men who aren’t really graduated into the core of this yet. There’d be lots of resources for older, wiser folks who’ve made up their minds they’re done and they want out. There’s very little for those who are right now in the thick of it. And the issue is not whether resources are there. They are there. The question is whether they are properly focused on this population. NOOR: Daniel Webster says he’s heard similar stories from other service providers. WEBSTER: The concern, I think, the short-term right now has been: is there a full commitment to this model aside from the law enforcement criminal justice piece? I think there are many service providers, for example, who are saying, wait a minute, there’s money for the law enforcement side of this. If you want us to be a part of the solution, part of this program, why aren’t we getting extra resources, extra help? You get far better outcomes when you have effective street outreach teams that continue to reinforce this message that is given in a very powerful way in these call-ins or notifications to offenders. But when you’re trying to change behavior, rarely is one delivery of a message enough. You need someone who is reinforcing things on a regular basis. And that is why outreach is important. And we haven’t invested on that side in the way that I think that we could or should. NOOR: While Ceasefire has been credited with the double-digit decline in homicides and getting drugs off the street in the Western District, some warn those gains could only be temporary. This is Neill Franklin, a 34-year veteran of both the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department, who oversaw 17 separate drug task forces. He now heads Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. NEILL FRANKLIN, 33-YEAR LAW ENFORCEMENT VETERAN: Are those really accomplishments? Now, people listening, saying, oh, yeah, they get this much drugs and money and drugs off the streets, all they did was create a void that will quickly be filled. And when we create this void of drugs and people selling drugs within a particular community, there’s usually some sort of fighting to fill that void, okay, the remaining gangs or crews, neighborhood crews that are going to step into that real estate. We’ve been doing this type of policing for decades, and it’s cyclical. It’s cyclical. Let me tell you, the only way that we’re going to, in my mind, be able to dismantle some of the crews and gangs that these people belong to that we’re monitoring is to end their number-one source of income for these gangs. And that’s the drug trade. And the only way you’re going to do that is to regulate the industry. As long as it’s out there, as long as all that money can be made, you’re going to have people filling the void. And that’s where displacement comes in. You’ll move it out of the Western District for a while. They’ll just go somewhere else. NOOR: Rose Street’s Clayton Guyton, whose work is praised by the likes of Daniel Webster and Neill Franklin, says he fears Ceasefire, without the properly funded outreach component, may actually undermine the violence prevention work he’s been doing for over a decade. GUYTON: They will agitate and raise the level of anger, if you will. And so, yes, that’s what I’m afraid Ceasefire’s going to do. It’s going to more or less turn our community into something that it don’t have to be. So, because of that, right, I’m willing to get involved with Ceasefire and help so that it won’t become a war zone in terms of people getting more angry with each other and taking out their frustration on each other and so forth like that. NOOR: Franklin even goes as far to say that some of the $2 million the city has thus far approved for Ceasefire’s enforcement side would be better served funding grassroots violence prevention programs like Rose Street. FRANKLIN: First and foremost, ownership. The community has ownership. That means that it’s going to be long-lasting. It’s not going to be temporary, because when you pull the police out and you have to cut the program because of funding, then crime filters back in, homicides filter back in. Community birth, community managed, community run, community sustained. NOOR: Baltimore Councilman Brandon Scott says even if there isn’t money for the social services component, the enforcement side should be rolled out. BRANDON SCOTT, BALTIMORE CITY COUNCILMAN, 2ND DISTRICT: Well, I think that I understand what they’re saying, but I think that we can’t just keep waiting until we–no one’s ever going to get everything that they want, and I know I’ll be following up with Ceasefire to make sure that we have the social component. But I don’t think it just always has to be on the taxpayer’s dime. There are creative ways that we have to come up, private-public partnerships, partnerships with nonprofits, so that we can figure out a way to make the services [hurt (?)], because we know that’s the way it works. NOOR: But Councilman Mosby argues the city risks doing more harm than good by also not offering the necessary social services. MOSBY: I think that there really has to be a real sound approach to providing those services and really giving the folks an option to do better and be better and be actual productive citizens. If you do not have that piece but you kind of put it out there, I think you further drive them in a direction to potentially cause harm in the city. NOOR: While Ceasefire aims to mitigate violence in homicides, until chronic poverty and joblessness are addressed, there won’t be a deeper, more profound solution. Again, David Kennedy. KENNEDY: This is trauma care. The communities that I’m committed to and that Ceasefire was designed for are losing people every single day, often, fortunately, in any one place not literally every day, but in fact in some places literally every day. And this is about the house burning down. This is a trauma surgeon with a gunshot victim on her table. We are trying to save lives and stabilize the immediate situation. That’s not the whole thing. And we, as much or more than anybody else, are committed to a larger picture. NOOR: The Real News will keep following this story. From Baltimore, this is Jaisal Noor.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.