LAW ENFORCEMENT, CLERGY AND GANG INTERVENTION
A coalition of law enforcement, school and government officials, clergy and crime prevention specialists from throughout the St. Louis region announced details of a collaborative, regional effort to combat youth gang violence.
The collaborative initiative called Ceasefire is one of the 11 projects in the St. Louis 2004 1998 Action Plan announced in March as part of its seven-year effort to make St. Louis a leading region in the 21st century. Modeled after the successful Boston Gun Project, Ceasefire is a coordinated effort to reduce youth violence associated with gang activity.
The goals of the initiative are:
1. To offer alternatives to lives of crime for youth in the region;
2. To intervene in the lives of young people who have been in trouble with the law; and
3. To take tough action against youth who commit violent crimes.
At the announcement, officials stressed the importance of developing new partnerships in any effort to reduce youth violence. "We have a responsibility, as a community, to deal with the issue of gangs and violence together," said Edward L. Dowd, Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri. "That means that barriers must come down, resources must be pooled, intelligence must be shared, and the network of response organizations must communicate and coordinate efforts."
The Ceasefire program began earlier this year with the formation of a Ceasefire Working Group under the auspices of St. Louis 2004. Federal, state and local law enforcement officials, federal and state probation and parole officers, local prevention and intervention organizations, local public schools, government leaders and service providers from throughout the St. Louis region comprise the Ceasefire Working Group, and the group has been meeting monthly to examine intelligence and develop strategies for addressing gang violence. The Working Group's initial areas of focus include parts of the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County and Jefferson County in Missouri and Madison County and St. Clair County in Illinois.
"Pooling intelligence on a regional scale has not been done efficiently or effectively in the past," said Charles Grace, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois. "This initiative increases the scope and quality of our investigations region-wide, as well as our ability to target violent areas with powerful resources."
One component of the Ceasefire initiative is increased involvement and outreach by clergy in anti-violence efforts. Members of INTERACT and the African-American Churches in Dialogue are leading these outreach efforts.
"We must be there for our youth, in the church and on the street," said Reverend Solomon Williams, Pastor of the New Jerusalem Cathedral Church of God in Christ. "Gang membership is simply an attempt to belong, to identify with peers, We have the ability to foster an environment, through our ministry, where our youth do not have to commit acts of violence to belong."
In May, members of Boston's Ten Point Coalition trained St. Louis area clergy to engage in faith-anchored, street-level work with severely at-risk youth, including juvenile probationers, and to expand their youth outreach services. The Ten Point Coalition stressed the importance of the working relationship clergy must have with law enforcement officials and service providers to whom they can make referrals.
Mayor Clarence Harmon also announced the implementation of the St. Louis Gang Outreach Program, also modeled after Boston's Street workers program. The outreach workers will be responsible for working with law enforcement, schools, clergy and service providers to identify gang members or those at risk of becoming members of gangs, to assess the problems facing these youth, to mentor and provide intensive supervision and to provide referrals to other programs. The program will be administered by Central Baptist Family Services.
"As to the violent youth in our community, the police are doing a good job identifying and arresting those who commit violent acts," said Mayor Harmon. "But we must do more to ensure that we don't lose those youth who simply need some guidance and options in life." Both outreach programs are now operational. Ultimately, outreach efforts will expand to provide services at area emergency rooms, where retaliatory acts can often be prevented with immediate intervention. Criminologists at the University of Missouri - St. Louis are designing both programs based on what's working in other cities.
Other components of the St. Louis regional Ceasefire strategy include:
Crack Down on Illicit Gun Trafficking
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, in conjunction with law enforcement agencies throughout the region, has launched an effort to crack down on illicit gun trafficking. Every gun seized from suspects ages 24 and under is systematically traced. Analysis of these traces provides information regarding source, more popular gun types and patterns involving federal firearms licensees. High investigative priority is placed on traces showing guns from high-risk neighborhoods and guns associated with known gang members. Interviews of these suspects are conducted to learn more about the flow of guns among youth. To date, the BATF has performed 1,800 traces and 100 interviews in the City of St. Louis alone. Several cases are pending as a result of these efforts. The St. Louis City and Jefferson County Sheriff’s's Department are also closely examining applications for permits to acquire concealable firearms.
Members of the Ceasefire Working Group and area federal firearms licensees have met twice in an effort to enlist support, to provide information to prevent the transfer of firearms to violent youth and to remove from the street weapons illegally obtained or used in crimes. One result of these meetings is the establishment, through the Missouri State Highway Patrol, of an 800 number for use by area gun dealers to determine whether a gun brought in for sale is stolen or has been used to commit a crime.
In addition, the North Patrol Initiative, started in St. Louis City's Seventh District, will assist in the suppression of the illegal sale and possession of firearms and will provide the necessary tools and information concerning the safeguarding of firearms and the disposal of unwanted firearms.
Aggressive Response to Violence
Ceasefire is a Hot Spot driven program. Acts of violence will result in immediate response from a network of law enforcement agencies including the police, federal agents, prosecutors, probation and parole and the courts. Since the first of the year, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Gang Unit, with assistance from Mobile Reserve, has focused on a St. Louis street gang known as the 51 MOB.
During the course of their Ceasefire investigation, police officers have made more than 65 arrests, and more than 45 firearms have been seized, along with large quantities of crack cocaine, powder cocaine, marijuana, blunts, black tar heroin, powder heroin and heroin capsules. Two vehicles have been seized and more than $4,500 cash. The investigation continues.
Our message to gang members is this: If you engage in criminal activity, we will bring you to justice. On the other hand, if you want to turn your life around, we'll be there to help you, said Chief Ronald Henderson of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
State and federal prosecutors have also placed high priority on locking up gang members who repeatedly come into contact with the system or who commit drug and violent offenses. "We're paying close attention to gang affiliation in my office," said Dee Joyce Hayes, Circuit Attorney for the City of St. Louis. "There are neighborhoods in this community where gang activity is the norm," she said. "I want to do my part to help residents fight back."
The program also promotes coordination between probation and parole, at both the state and federal levels, and the police and prosecutors to both educate youth with criminal records about the legal consequences of continued violence, as well as to coordinate the punishment of these youth. Information is now exchanged regularly between these agencies, and in some cases, intensive supervision is provided to those gang members at the highest risk for committing violent crimes.
The St. Louis Family Court has also established better communications with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, resulting in new procedures for faster federal prosecution of violent youth and more direct contact between police and Deputy Juvenile Officers. The Court is now receiving field interview reports on juvenile gang members and is establishing, with REJIS, a parent notification system to inform parents of their child's gang affiliation.
In addition to the clergy and gang outreach intervention programs, the Ceasefire Working Group is looking at other ways in which alternatives can be provided to at-risk youth. Other efforts underway and available to the youth identified through the Ceasefire initiative include the DEFY camp and mentoring program, the Weed & Seed Jobs Program and the National Guard "Show Me Challenge."
The Regional Violence Prevention Initiative (RVPI) is playing a key role in identifying resources available to provide direct services to at-risk youth. Under the Ceasefire program, the RVPI has served as a catalyst in forming the partnership with area clergy, law enforcement and government officials. In some parts of the City of St. Louis, the SafeFutures program is already providing services similar to that of the gang outreach program and will coordinate with the Ceasefire program to expand outreach efforts.
Also, St. Louis Public Schools Administrators are proposing two new projects as part of the Ceasefire initiative. First is the implementation of a notification system wherein police field interview reports are taxed to alert the schools to any problems occurring off of school property. Second is the formation of a team of probation officers and social workers to be housed in area high schools on a daily basis to serve as a resource/intervention for students involved in gang activity.
The Ceasefire Working Group has also targeted the Castle Point neighborhood in St. Louis County for program implementation. A Community Response Team was recently created, comprised of volunteers from the Castle Point Community Association, Castle Point Strategy Committee, local area clergy and local law enforcement officials. The Team will address problems such as gang membership, drug violations, vandalism and loitering.
While some components of the program differ, much of the strategy has been designed to duplicate the successes in Boston through its Ceasefire program. Named a finalist for the 1997 Innovations in American Government Award, Boston's Ceasefire program has seen startling results, including dramatic drops in juvenile crime and juvenile homicides. Numerous cities across the country are now employing the same tactics. More than a dozen representatives from the St. Louis regional Ceasefire Working Group traveled to Boston earlier this year to learn more about the program's design and implementation strategy.
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright © 1999, US Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.