Thursday, September 2, 2010

The 2.2 Million-Dollar Question: Does CeaseFire Work?

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, photo from Part 4 in an ongoing series, click here, here, and here for the previous posts.

By now it's no secret that there is potentially $2.2 million in federal money just waiting to be used to implement the CeaseFire model here in Minneapolis. There's plenty to be skeptical about, both in terms of CeaseFire's methods in Chicago and who exactly would put them into practice here.

But the big question is simply whether or not the program actually works. To answer that, I looked at the final 80 or so pages of the 229-page report...

We left off with some questionable tactics used by CeaseFire violence interrupters.  Less controversial, however, is what they did when they weren't involved in gang violations or divvying up street territory for various drug and prostitution business.

The most frequent form of participation among CeaseFire collaborators was in distributing educational materials around stopping the violence.  Now, I have to express a fair amount of skepticism here.  Is a flier or a bumper sticker or a leaflet really going to convince some teenager that gun violence is bad?  What effect do these materials really have?

The second-most reported activity among collaborators was attending marches in response to shootings that have already happened.  Once again, what does this actually do to PREVENT violence?  I'm not opposed to such marches as a way to express sympathy for and solidarity with those affected, but I am unsure if one can demonstrate that such activities keep shootings and other violent crime from happening.

The police were the most involved partner, attending most of the CeaseFire hiring panels.  Clergy were next, and they most frequently participated in marches or opened their facilities as safe havens.  Non-profits and service providers, as well as local businesses and schools helped spread the anti-violence method as well.  The report goes into the greatest detail on the relationship between CeaseFire and the police.

The big issue was a culture within the Chicago police department of "once a crook, always a crook." They had trouble working with many of the ex-felons who were CeaseFire staffers. The mistrust from program staff towards police has already been well-documented.

"Worst of all, this culture and the politics of the organization prevented the police department from issuing any clear instructions on how the districts should engage with CeaseFire. Frightened of endorsing a social program for gang members staffed by ex-cons, yet pushed to by support for the program in the community and among local politicians, they temporized by doing nothing."

I added the emphasis because...well, the program's most frequent collaborators did NOTHING?!?! Then why does the program COST ANY MONEY?!

And here's an interesting tidbit:

"The program faced another conundrum in communities where it was the custom for gang members of construct small "memorials" to their slain members. These were collections of glittering candles, personal artifacts, and liquor bottles left to provide for the fallen in the next life. Police were denounced when they kicked memorial materials asunder; in one community they removed the stuffed teddy bears that were being assembled as fast as they were laid down."

More often than not, these makeshift memorials glorify the thug lifestyle and include alcohol containers left for kids who are years away from being able to drink. The first time an activity by a collaborator pushed back against such things, it caused problems with program staffers.

The clergy were also partners of sorts. Things seemed to go along swimmingly until money was part of the equation. That whole "vow of poverty" thing isn't really for everyone. "When CeaseFire finally received funding from the State of Illinois, they decided to use this money to hire outreach workers rather than fund church-based programs. Many pastors had expected to receive contracts from CPVP. Grants and contracts are a routine way in which Chicago’s churches sustain their often very substantial social service and community development projects."

But at least men and women of God were humble enough to share the work and credit equally with their partners, right? "In explaining why the clergy partnership was relatively stunted, both CeaseFire staff and clergy themselves pointed to 'ego' as a characteristic of some faith-based leaders that impeded the development of partnerships between them. 'Big egos' can make projects outside their purview and people outside their congregations seem unimportant."

The clergy often had the same reservations as the police about working with CeaseFire in situations where immoral and illegal activities were tolerated, negotiated, or encouraged as a way to reduce even more harmful activities. The sixth commandment is pretty straightforward. "Thou shalt not kill," does not have a clause that says, "but go ahead and smack someone around a bit if that helps."

Even so, 89% of clergy reported no problems with their CeaseFire partners.

If you've made it this far, we FINALLY get to the big question: in spite of all of this, does CeaseFire actually do what it's supposed to?

The study compared seven target areas with other demographically similar neighborhoods where CeaseFire did not do any activities. If violent crimes went down in the CeaseFire areas but not at the same rate in non-CeaseFire neighborhoods, one could assume CeaseFire deserved some credit.

First up, what happened to shots fired? In two communities, the decline in shooting rates (shots fired) was insignificant in both the target and comparison areas. In another two, the probability was not high that there was a correlation between the decline and CeaseFire activities – the rate of decline was similar in comparison areas. In one area the rates of decline were such that the study considered it "probable," but not definitive, that CeaseFire's actions contributed to the drop in shots fired.  In the final two, shootings were down between 17 and 24%, and that decline was significantly greater than in the comparison areas.

Things get slightly better when it comes to actual shootings where the shooter hit either their target or another person. Three sites were deemed as either no significant change or that the change could not be attributed to CeaseFire activities. Four saw decreases in shootings that could probably or likely be attributed to CeaseFire.

But a statistical correlation between CeaseFire activities and actual killings could only be drawn in ONE of the seven target areas. Remember, THIS IS THE WHOLE POINT OF CEASEFIRE. TO STOP THE KILLINGS. They are even wiling to tolerate open-air drug use/sales, prostitution, and sanctioned gang beatings in order to accomplish this goal. In all of the other six, killings were not significantly different or the decline was too similar in the comparison areas to attribute any success to CeaseFire.

There was still about 30 more pages of the report left to go through at the point when this statistic was revealed. Some of that data pointed to positive results of CeaseFire, and some data was not so flattering. Ultimately, however, the Hawkman's final verdict is based on the paragraph above. CeaseFire simply does not appear to have a measurable impact that justifies bringing their model of violent crime prevention to Minneapolis.


  1. Saw this also this morning and thought it fits well here:

  2. NoMi Passenger,

    Oddly enough, I heard that story already while I was listening to the Chicago Bears' football game last week. On a side note, I'm beginning to think the Bears' payroll is an even bigger waste of money than CeaseFire. Things don't look good for my team this year.

    But thanks for providing the link.

  3. We need to keep this so-called "Cease Fire" program out of North Minneapolis, OMG.

  4. I have commented on this issue mainly on JNS and all i can do at this point and time is to reiterate that following any ideas or programs that emanate from the concaves of that cities murky depths will not only prolong our anguish, it will tear apart any fiber of proud individualism that remain in our communities.These CON men and women figure that we are a bunch of ignorant and naive backwoods idiots.Do not be fooled by these dubious and diabolic entities that seek to suck the life out of our area.Do not give in to any powers of suggestion that may come from their direction.Leaders of our communities,and i mean from all ethnic and cultural backrounds,need to raise up and let them know we are fully capable of handling our own affairs.If you let this happen you will be admitting you are helpless and that will be the only thing these vultures need to sense. We are better than that. Good Evening.


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