Violence is disease, expert tells city council

By Joe Lambe

Aim4Peace "interrupters."

Aim4Peace “interrupters.”

The leader of an international anti-violence effort refuses to use the word criminal anymore, he said Thursday.

Calling people drug dealers, thugs and killers helps lead to harsh and ineffective punitive measures, Gary Slutkin told the city council.

The shootings and murders that plague cities “are health issues, not moralistic issues – they can be cured,” he said.

Slutkin started Operation Ceasefire in 2000 and is now executive director of the group renamed Cure Violence.

He spoke in favor of Aim4Peace, the anti-crime operation of the city health department based on the cure violence model.

“The number one predictor of violence is being exposed to violence,” Slutkin said. “It’s contagious.”

For instance, he said, “Thirty percent of children beaten as children beat their children.”

aim-for-peace-2Adding to the problem, 15-to-25 year olds – whose brain impulse control is not fully developed – commit  two-thirds of the violence. And, if they grow up in violence with violent friends, what they care about most is what their friends think of them.

Also, “when people have been traumatized, they go off fast and they have hostile attribution – ‘what are you you looking at me for?”’

Most of the violence, he said, is “looked at my girl, owed me money, disrespected me – it’s mostly personal stuff.”

Attack the problem by changing behavior as health models have changed it regarding smoking and other social problems, he said.

His model, which has more than cut violence in half in some other city areas, sends in trained “interrupters” to find those at risk.

In Kansas City’s Aim4Peace program, for instance, they  go to Truman Medical Center after someone has been shot and work to prevent retaliation attacks.

Interrupters also identify other dangerous disputes, intervene and work to change what is socially acceptable in an area.

People start calling them in, he said, and fewer people die.

Slutkin noted that Aim4Peace last year reduced homicides by half in the small part of the police east patrol area it covers.

That helped it get a recent $1.2 million grant to expand its area from 15 percent of the city to 30 percent.

Slutkin urged the council to try to find money to increase the “dosage” to cover more of the city.

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