They have prior criminal records but now aim to resolve neighborhood conflicts before they turn violent. They walk neighborhood streets on a daily basis and use their connections to resolve disputes before they escalate, requiring the police.
These “violence interrupters” and their tactics helped to drive down crime in East New York and the South Bronx, two neighborhoods analyzed in a John Jay College of Criminal Justice report.
The city began implementing 18 such programs around the city from the global nonprofit Cure Violence in 2010, drawing funds from the U.S. Department of Justice. East New York and the South Bronx recorded steeper declines in shootings compared with two neighborhoods without the programs, the college said.
In Brooklyn’s East New York, 50% fewer people were admitted to hospitals with gunshot wounds from 2005 to 2016, according to the state Department of Health.
Flatbush, a Brooklyn neighborhood with similar demographics and population, saw a 5% decline in shooting injuries during the same period.
In the South Bronx, with the Cure Violence program in place, there were 37% fewer people shot from 2005 to 2016, according to the report. There were 29% fewer people shot during the same period in East Harlem, which doesn’t have the program.
“People who have previous justice system involvement and have turned their lives around to build their community…are important emissaries for violence prevention and conflict resolution,” said Eric Cumberbatch, executive director of the mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence.
“This program is showing us that community members are critical agents of peace,” he said.
The results come as New York City has experienced an overall decline in major felony crime.
The interrupters work independently but have often been cited by the New York Police Department and Mayor Bill de Blasio as contributors to the city’s crime decline. This past summer, interrupters helped patrol J’Ouvert, a Labor Day festival in Brooklyn that long was plagued by violence.
In the Bronx, participants of the program also monitor social media to resolve arguments between gang members.
Andre T. Mitchell, who heads the nonprofit Man Up! Inc. in East New York, said he deploys interrupters to address a range of conflicts, whether it be a domestic issue between family members or a potential shooting.
“We have our ears close to the ground,” Mr. Mitchell said.
In the neighborhoods with interrupters, survey respondents said they were less likely to use violence in hypothetical “serious disputes,” according to the report. In those neighborhoods, for instance, people were 33% less likely to resort to violence during a serious dispute in 2016 compared with 2014.
The neighborhoods without the interrupters were 12% less likely to use violence during the same period.
Appeared in the October 2, 2017, print edition of the Wall Street Journal as ‘‘Interrupters’ Help Reduce Violence In Neighborhoods.’