Despite earlier criticism, Chicago moves ahead with CeaseFire funding

July 13, 2012

Despite previous public misgivings by Chicago's police superintendent, the city is moving forward with a plan to reduce crime by working with CeaseFire, the group that deploys "interrupters" to mediate tense situations before they erupt into violence.

CeaseFire Director Tio Hardiman said he's meeting Friday with police in two of the neighborhood's roughest police districts to map out their strategies. Under an agreement reached with the city last month, CeaseFire will get a $1 million city grant to test out its anti-violence method in two police districts on the South and West Sides.

"Our partnership with CeaseFire will augment and enhance our current gang violence reduction strategy, making Chicago safer for everyone," Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said in an emailed statement Friday.

But both sides seem to have come to the final agreement cautiously.

Working alongside cops could pose a tricky situation for CeaseFire, which often employs ex-gang members to mediate conflicts. Maintaining that street cred is key to the group's success, Hardiman said.

"People shoot in the community and ask questions later," Hardiman said. "So if the young guys that we work with feel that we're ... being informants, or whatever, there's a chance some of our staff will lose their lives."

There also seems to have been skepticism from McCarthy. At a speaking engagement June 12, McCarthy said he was "not a big fan" of the way CeaseFire works, and suggested the group undermines police by telling people not to talk to cops when they have a problem.

Hardiman said he was caught off guard by McCarthy's remarks, and denied his outreach workers have ever advised people not to cooperate with law enforcement.

As of last month, both Hardiman and a representative for the Chicago Police Department said they were working on a $1.5 million program to fund outreach workers in three police districts. But the pilot on the far South Side was scrapped because there's already a similar anti-violence program in place there, said Sarah Hamilton, a spokeswoman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Hardiman said he was never told why the plans were scaled back.

CeaseFire will use its funding from the Chicago Department of Public Health to hire 24 workers, and split them evenly between its pilot beats on the South and West Sides. Hardiman said he has his workers lined up, but they must still be approved by "screening panels." That follows news reports that a handful of CeaseFire employees had been charged with crimes while they on the group's payroll.

But a few "bad apples" shouldn't stop the city from using an anti-violence tactic that has lowered crime in some neighborhoods, said 34th Ward Ald. Carrie Austin, who has previously been critical of the Chicago Police Department's new crime strategies.

"When something doesn't work, refashion it, try something new," Austin said. "If what you're doing is only working a little bit, change it. Let's see what else will work. I think that with our new superintendent, I think that that's what he's trying to do now."

Hardiman said he's optimistic that CeaseFire's deal with the city can reduce the number of homicides in Chicago.

"Hopefully we can make McCarthy a believer that CeaseFire works," Hardiman said Friday. "That's what we're hoping."