Baltimore City, a town notorious for crime and high homicide rates, has initiated a unique program geared toward mediating conflicts. The Park Heights Safe Streets program is the newest of the four Safe Streets program in Baltimore City.
Since February 2013, the Park Heights location has been carrying out the program's motto "Stop Shooting. Start Living."
Based off Chicago's Ceasefire, a program founded by epidemiologist Dr. Gary Slutkin, Safe Streets has followed a similar model of promoting community coalition and outreach mitigation. Dr. Slutkin viewed crime as an epidemic that needed to be treated.
Park Heights Site Director James Timpson is a believer in Dr. Slutkin's ideology about preventing homicides and shootings. Timpson said, "You [have] to identify and detect the problem, interrupt the transmission, and you have to change the norms."
He sees this strategy as being an effective way to prevent altercations. His co-workers go into the community and identify high-risk individuals and communicate with them in hopes of getting them on the right track and preventing them from future criminal activity. He says a major factor in reaching individuals who are in the streets is having the right staff. "These outreach workers are credible messenger's because these are the guys who used to run these streets, used to get into trouble in these streets, and guys who used to have a lot of control in the neighborhood," Timpson said. "They can go and be credible messengers and let's say make a better way for people in the community."
The Park Heights staff is driven by outreach workers and a supervisor, each responsible for 17 individual's between the ages of 14 to 25. Participants must meet certain criteria, including being in a gang, being shot before, or previously serving a jail sentence. The participants meet with their outreach worker counselor in person at least four times a month. The outreach workers have the tough task of mediating conflicts and documenting every step.
Timpson said there is a lot of data analyzing and strategic planning that the public is not aware of. "One of the biggest misconceptions about the job is that these guys wake up, and just put on orange shirts that say Safe Streets on the back and hang on the corner," said Timpson. "What people don't understand is the leg work that goes on. It's a method to our madness."
The outreach workers collect data and see what areas of the neighborhoods are the trouble areas and plan accordingly to amend the hot spots. Additionally, the outreach workers go beyond their job description to look out for their individuals.
Albert Brown, an outreach worker, said that even with limited resources they have helped people in need. "This program right here is really unique because it touches the community. Our job isn't to get people jobs, but since we've been here we have gotten about 30 people jobs," Brown said. "If you put a gun down we believe we can give you something."
Stanley Dennis, another outreach worker, believes people being out of work plays a big role in why people are in the streets. Dennis said, "Since I've been working this job I found out that the job plays a big part of what's going on out there. If there [were] more jobs a lot of guys wouldn't be out there."
Timpson said his co-workers invested in these young adults. They are not there to chastise, but to help participants see the bigger picture and the consequences for every action they take.
Safe Streets has united the community with many community activities.
Since Safe Streets came to Park Heights over 158 mediations have taken place, preventing shootings, and 10 community events. Dennis said "Anytime you have 300 people come to a cookout and there [are] no fights or violence that's a good event right there."
Imhotep Fatiu, an outreach supervisor at Park Heights, previously served time in jail and knows how valuable Safe Streets is for the community. He would like for the current model to expand into schools and hospitals.
"I would like for it to go to the point where there is no shooting or violence and if there are altercations people will rely on Safe Streets to come in and work these situations, Fatiu said.