CeaseFire: What it’s going to take to break Venezuela’s violence epidemic

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Notice the metaphor in that title? “Violence epidemic”? We hear that kind of figurative language all the time. But what if violence really is an epidemic, or behaves like one enough to be fought like an epidemic?

That’s the idea behind CeaseFire, an anti-violence initiative that’s amassing a pretty impressive record on bringing down violent crime in some of the most difficult neighborhoods in the U.S.

CeaseFire works through aggressive peer-led street outreach by ex-offenders with deep ties to the community, who gather intelligence on gangs in order to spot potential conflicts. Such conflicts are then mediated by the program’s famed violence “Interrupters.” At its peak, CeaseFire Chicago employed fifty outreach workers and fifty Interrupters, chosen from pools of candidates screened by professional and community panels to ensure they’d left the hustling life. Statisticians analyze the data gathered by outreach teams alongside data tracking violence collected by law enforcement, identifying up-to-the-moment crime hot spots, and focusing the program’s resources on those places where recent flare-ups of violence have potential to multiply through retaliation, breaking out and infecting whole neighborhoods.

This is the kind of program the next government is going to have to implement if we’re going to make headway against the obscene murder epidemic now hitting so many Venezuelan neighbourhoods. Because when violence is as normalized as it’s become in Venezuela’s underclass, aggressive law enforcement (which, to be sure, we also need) just isn’t enough.

1 COMMENT

  1. You’re going to need a Venezuelan version of the The Untouchables.

    Seriously, you guys have talked about this before. This is going to take simultaneous reforms to the police, the courts, and the prison system. There are no magic fixes for this. It will take years and decades of incessant hard work by dedicated and motivated professionals.

  2. Roy is right. Look what Brasil uses in Rio-Military Swat Teams with Military armament. You’ll also need a civilized/educated society (eventually) with non-corrupt functioning courts/police and adequate laws/prisons. As for “Interrupters”, they will find their lives “interrupted” by Termination.

  3. In the speech by Mexico’s president-elect last night, there was mention of moving away from capturing specific cartel leaders and beginning to find ways to limit the violence that exists BETWEEN the cartels.

    • They could solve their own problem and save thousands of Mexican lives by dumping a (utterly and irretrievably lost) “War on…” policy imposed from Up North. But they would suffer horrifying sanctions that would destroy their economy and turn their country into the cartels playground.The ideal (but unrealistic, if only because many hang unrealistically to the possibility of winning said War) solution for the moment would be for the rest of the World, and their Northern Neighbor to dump said policy.

      By the way, dumping the Lost War would provide relief and save the lives of hundreds if not thousands of Venezuelans yearly. And of thousands if not hundreds of thousands Hondurans, Guatemalans, Jamaicans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, Bolivians, Peruvians, U.S. Americans, etc. etc. etc. (on the Eastern Hemisphere, Burmese and Afghans come to mind quickly) That would be just by stopping the War, not counting the many addicts that die or cause death around themselves.

      • I could not agree more. I have been a proponent of ending this failed “War on Drugs” policy for decades. In the last couple of years, I have seen this idea start to gain some traction in the U.S. and other countries. It still has a long way to go.

  4. Are there any statistics about the circumstances surrounding the violence? What I have in mind is, are murders occurring during interaction such as fights among neighbors, or late night at bars? CeaseFire might be appropriate for those; however, how would thieves be convinced not to shoot while they’re robbing or kidnapping people?

  5. What has been most effective in the USA was to plot high crime locations on neighborhood maps, and then place police there. After a while, “safe zones” are established and enlarge.

  6. In addition to what Gordo said, one thing that worked in NYC was attacking crime via the Broken Windows theory. Example: turnstile jumping on the subway is a relatively trivial crime. When the subway police targeted turnstile jumpers, they found out that a lot of of the arrested turnstile jumpers already had outstanding warrants for crimes considerably worse than turnstile jumping. Take them off the streets, put them in prison, and the crime rate drops.

    Unfortunately, given the gross overcrowding in Venezuelan prisons, that approach will run into problems. It won’t be easy.

    My bias is to look at what NYC did. Chicago’s murder rate is four times that of NYC. It was not that way twenty years ago. About the only thing the Chicago polity does with any effectiveness is stuffing ballot boxes. I am skeptical of any proposed solutions emanating from the City of Broad Shoulders.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/16/chicago-homicide-rate-wor_n_1602692.html

  7. Excellent article, we need to be as creative as these people to solve the number 1 problem in Venezuela. I think that the nature of this program and its success suggest that the solution needs to be applied by the affected community, they acknowledged that every community is different and apply different strategies.

  8. Wait! Before you start singing the praises of Ceasefire, you need to know that there was a headline in the New York Times last week that indicated that homicides in Chicago, where Ceasefire originated, are up by 38% so far this year. Also, Illinois has the strictest gun laws of any state in the USA, yet Chicago, as compared to other major US cities, has very high homicide rates.

    For those readers of this blog who have not been to the Windy City, it is very racially segregated, with lots of disenfranchised black and Latino youth, and what I would call endemic gang violence.

  9. There have been numerous scandals involving CeaseFire operatives who were scouting for gangs or dealing drugs while posing as “interrupters”. Police in Chicago (the working police, not the brass) have only contempt for CeaseFire.
    What Venezuela needs to stop this criminal violence includes:

    1) Building sufficient prisons to house known criminals in reasonable conditions.
    2) Hiring enough police to maintain order.
    3) Hiring enough courts, judges and prosecutors to process arrested accused criminals.

    These should not be difficult, as Venezuela has immense amounts of oil money to spend.
    However, Venezuela also requires

    4) A government under which the law and constitution are actually followed, and not routinely ignored by the ruler and his associates.
    5) A government which has effective budgetary and fiscal processes, rather than one in which the leader and his associates spend money however they please, with neither accounting or accountability.
    6) A government which does not squander the national income on foolish projects, and does not let associates of the leader enrich themselves by graft or cronyism.
    7) A government which does not allow high officials and associates of the leader to traffic in drugs.
    8) A government in which hiring, promotion, and appointment to high office are generally subject to appropriate qualifications, not routinely granted to wholly unqualified associates of the leader and his party.

    None of these measures will be possible while Chavez rules, especially 4 through 9.

    • It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a program staffed almost exclusively by hardened criminals ends up attracting scams now and again – nor that such a program is held in contempt by cops. I don’t think either of those are very reasonable grounds for opposing it, though, if you can establish its effectiveness.

      But of course your list is right. It’s both-and, not either/or.

    • Very well articulated. All true.

      Not holding my breath, but it is a damn good “To Do” list for the next president.

  10. The presence of Chavez and the ineptitude of his followers and powers makes any attempt to walk in the right direction impossible, the environment just isn’t suitable for progress.

    It’s like trying to cure a broken bone on a severed limb.

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