Posted September 14, 2011

Temple launches community program to reduce gun violence

Joe Labolito
As part of Philadelphia CeaseFire, based at the medical school, community outreach coordinator Melanie Bryant, MSW, and outreach workers Brandon Jones and Terry Starks work to prevent gun violence in the 22nd police district of North Philadelphia.

CeaseFire, a nationwide, evidence-based violence intervention program which has been proven to decrease instances of gun violence in urban areas, has recently been rolled out at Temple's School of Medicine.

Originally implemented in Chicago, the program blends statistical information and the knowledge and experience of community members to focus efforts on areas and individuals most at-risk for gun violence. In 2008, the Department of Justice issued a report on CeaseFire's effectiveness and found a reduction of up to 73 percent in the number of shootings and killings in areas of Chicago where CeaseFire was implemented.

Philadelphia CeaseFire, based at the medical school's Center for Bioethics, Urban Health and Policy, seeks to reduce the number of homicides and shootings in North Philadelphia using five core components: community outreach, community mobilization, public education, faith-based involvement, and criminal justice participation.

"The problem of gun violence in cities across the country, including Philadelphia, has become a public health epidemic," said Marla Davis Bellamy, director of Philadelphia CeaseFire and the Center for Bioethics, Urban Health and Policy. "The key to ending such an epidemic is to adopt a public health approach that engages communities and focuses on behavioral change."

Integral to the success of CeaseFire is the involvement of a team consisting of an outreach coordinator and ex-offenders serving as outreach workers, who use their built-in credibility to act as mentors to youths in the targeted demographic — 14-25 years old. The workers meet with at-risk youth, coaching them on how to get out of a lifestyle that often ends with gun violence. Bellamy says they also represent a new category of public health workers in the field of violence prevention and injury control.

Brandon Jones, along with fellow outreach workers, canvasses the streets of the police service area (PSA) 2 in the 22nd district, to try to identify individuals between the ages of 14-25 who are involved in high-risk street activity and are interested in turning their lives around. So far, Jones has worked with three youths — called clients — and is working up to a full caseload of 15.

Jones says that in his role as an outreach worker, he serves as an advocate for his clients, contacting them on a regular basis and trying to redirect them to positive alternatives including employment, job training and education. He offers his life experience as a cautionary tale.

"I tell them I know where they've been," he said. "I say, 'I'm not here to tell you right from wrong, you already know that. The question is, do you want to die, or do you want to live?' A lot of the time, the young people involved in this lifestyle have been conditioned to this poisonous behavior, so we're out here, trying to change and renew mindsets."

One of the methods used to increase awareness of Philadelphia CeaseFire among community members is hosting a Shooting Response Event, typically a march or vigil conducted at the site of a shooting within days of the incident. They also saturate the targeted neighborhoods with posters, leaflets, flyers and other materials that disparage violence and carry pointed messages about the consequences of shootings and killings.

Philadelphia CeaseFire is the latest in Temple's efforts to reduce gun violence in the city. The award-winning Cradle to Grave program, started in 2006 by Temple trauma surgeon Amy Goldberg and trauma outreach coordinator Scott Charles, shows at-risk teens the grim reality of gunshot wounds by allowing them to see the aftermath first hand. In 2010, Goldberg and Charles co-authored a study that found that the program was effective at changing teen's attitudes towards guns and violence.

Davis Bellamy is confident that CeaseFire will add to the success of Cradle to Grave. “We are working collectively with Cradle to Grave as well as with community and faith-based leaders who have the ability to influence the thinking and behavior of young people who are losing their lives to gun violence due to involvement in high risk activity,” said Davis Bellamy.

CeaseFire Philadelphia is funded by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and is currently amassing data to determine the program's effectiveness in the 22nd district. If proven effective, the goal is to extend the program to other areas of the city.


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