NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New York City’s alarming spike in gun violence is prompting a big investment in community groups who can help police officers with prevention and intel.
The $16 million citywide initiative is an experiment to dispatch more so-called “violence interrupters” into troubled neighborhoods, CBS2’s Dave Carlin reports.
Visol Smith is a violence interrupter, and preventing shootings is his job.
“We are here to keep you alive,” Smith said.
For the past six years employed as part of the Sheltering Arms nonprofit group, he’s been a constant presence inside certain housing developments, on basketball courts and other spots in Far Rockaway, putting himself in danger.
“I was in a situation recently where a young man got shot right next to me. I was in the process of doing a mediation and he got shot two times. I had to duck for cover. I’ve been in situations where a gun’s pulled out on me. It’s part of the job,” Smith said.
His program with Sheltering Arms just learned its funding is increased by a full one-fourth by the city.
More staff will be hired so violence interrupters and outreach staffers can branch out.
“Just by being able to go into another area, I feel will help to reduce the gun violence in totality on the entire 101 precinct,” said Amy Wilkerson, vice president of youth programs at Sheltering Arms.
Other groups citywide get extra cash and resources too, partnering with police to solve a summer of extreme violence fueled by a significant uptick in gang activity.
Trying to fight it means more than just increased police patrols, but also gun buyback events and many more violence interrupters.
“They are able to help us. Oftentimes, they’re able to talk to people who see the uniform and don’t want to talk to police, but they will speak to a violence interrupter and give that person information, so I see them as partners,” said Chief Judith Harrison, NYPD Borough Patrol Commander, Brooklyn North.
“It might be body language, it might be two people arguing and it’s about to escalate,” Smith said. “Being that we live in the community and we’re for the community, people respect us, who we are … We don’t get that push back, that mind your own business.”
Far Rockaway resident Hector Tejeda says he supports increased investment in after-school and other programs for youth and welcomed an influx of authority figures who are not cops.
“I think time is gonna tell,” he said.
As for the effectiveness of violence interrupters, that can be difficult to prove if the funding is inconsistent. This influx of cash is meant to change that.
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