Safe Streets

Our view : It's a program with promise and impact

June 13, 2008

The young men who work out of an East Monument Street rowhouse are giving Baltimore a safer city. They walk the streets in McElderry Park, engaging other young men whom they pass on a corner and with whom they share a common past. Some are known by reputation, others are newcomers, but they all appreciate how fast a beef, a slight, an insult can turn deadly. It's their job to help settle scores without a gun.

It's their job to help curb the violence.

Mayor Sheila Dixon has invested in the crew of Operation Safe Streets, and initial reviews of their efforts are promising - shootings in their neighborhood are down. Better yet, an evaluation of the Chicago program on which their work is based provides compelling evidence to support an expansion of the Safe Streets initiative here.

Chicago's CeaseFire program has been operating for six years, covers more neighborhoods and reports a decrease of 16 percent to 34 percent in shootings and attempted shootings. Baltimore officials, pleased with the outcome of the pilot program in East Baltimore, want to add two more sites in the city and are seeking proposals from community groups. The city Health Department, which oversees the program, has collected about $1.4 million from the business community and needs a total of $2 million to expand it beyond its East and Southwest Baltimore sites.

Neighborhoods and patrons shouldn't mistake this project for just another violence prevention program; it treats violence as a public health problem. It has a specialized format and training regimen that were developed by a Chicago physician and infectious disease specialists. The caliber and training of the outreach workers are critical components, as is their supervision. To monitor its investment, Baltimore has hired Johns Hopkins public health researcher Daniel Webster to assess the program's impact on crime, a key aspect to determining the project's success and future expansion. Initial reports are encouraging: The workers under supervisor Leon Faruq have compelling accounts of the potentially life-threatening disputes they have mediated.

But until Hopkins researchers finish their work, it's best to proceed with cautious optimism.

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