Trying to interrupt crime before it happens

Mar 24, 2015

By using people with firsthand knowledge of guns and gangs, a program is trying to interrupt violence on Syracuse’s streets.

The national Cure Violence program was created by a former public health doctor and so it’s modeled off of treating infectious disease: you have to treat the cause of the illness, not just the symptoms.

"Gun and gang violence had that similar replication, that similar infection in the community," said Raheem Mack, who runs Syracuse iteration of the Cure Violence. It started in the fall. It’s known in New York state as SNUG – "guns" spelled backwards.

Mack uses community members with close ties or previous run-ins with crime as case workers. They’re known as violence interrupters, "and engage them in the communities that they’re familiar with to talk about, or help bring in knowledge about why violence is not something that we would like to see," he said.

Mack says it’s about getting someone that can assimilate in the community to get the message out, instead of an outsider.

"Those victims and sometime potential perpetrators, if we can get to them before a retaliation happens or before they actually do something, that’s intervention," said Mack. "We intervene often."

Then, if the message about stopping shoots clicks, the conversation can progress to getting a job, or doing well in school. "Once you make those inroads, you’re doing case management, you’re doing social work. And the ultimate goal is create pro-social activity and stop violence," he said.

The program is new and funded right now only for a year through a state grant. Mack says the community will probably not know about the work the cure violence model does, "because how would you know that we stopped a shooting, or a fight, or a gang war, or whatever it might be, because those things never will ever be reported because they never talk about it," Mack said.