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Violence prevention as disease control.

67 percent reduction in shootings in 1 year.

In 2000, Chicago’s West Garfield Park neighborhood had one of the highest murder rates in the United States. Five years earlier, Gary Slutkin, an experienced epidemiologist, had established the Chicago Project for Violence Protection after becoming convinced that the trajectory of an infectious disease and that of violence shared similar patterns. By this reasoning, one could treat each with the same public health strategy – stopping transmission at the source and changing behavior patterns so that fewer people became infected in the first place. 

Initially focusing – unsuccessfully – on an outreach program aimed at fostering youth employment and education as a means to prevent violence, Slutkin realized he was not reaching the most ‘infectious’ individuals. Adjusting his approach, he founded CeaseFire as a stand-alone pilot project in West Garfield Park and watched as his hunch proved correct – by the end of its first year the organization’s innovative model had produced a stunning 67 percent reduction in shootings. 

CeaseFire identifies those who have been most ‘infected’ by urban violence and treats this core group through a staff of ‘violence interrupters’ – former perpetrators employed to disrupt armed conflicts and educate the community about the consequences of violent behaviour. As testament to its success, the organization’s model has now been replicated in 15 American cities and four countries worldwide.

(Photo © CeaseFire Chicago)