ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- St. Louis is preparing to launch a new program to curb violence on city streets.

The "Cure Violence" model has been adopted by numerous cities across the nation, including Kansas City just four hours to the west.

In Kansas City the program is called "Aim 4 Peace" but it follows the Cure Violence model, in which paid employees canvas city streets in some of the city’s most distressed neighborhoods.

Salahuddin Abdul-Waali is one of those employees, and works for the Kansas City Health Department. He’s familiar with the streets and the violence that often erupts in the sector of the city he works, known as Zone 330.

Homicides vs. Staff Size

"This is the community that raised me," he said. 

At the Kansas City Health Department, Rashid Junaid oversees the program.

When asked if employees like Abdul-Waali are violence interrupters he responded, “That’s one of the ways we have described ourselves.”

He said interrupters are routinely going into the community and finding out who has a conflict, and one of the program's primary goals is to prevent retaliation related crimes following a homicide.

"We have credible messengers we recruit and deploy in the community," Junaid said. 

Those messengers include people like Abdul-Waali, a man with his own criminal past.

“I went to prison for robbery. I was 20 years old,” he said.

There’s no question he’s got a likable personality.

While canvassing street corners and crowded bus stops, people passing by would stop to speak to Abdul-Waali.

One man who only identified himself as 'McFadden' said Abdul-Waali helped him.

"We have been through trials and tribulations," he said. "He stopped me from getting into more trouble."

When asked to explain he added, "I was having an argument with someone and they happened to catch it before it got out of hand."

Abdul-Waali doesn’t carry a weapon, as he’s prohibited from doing so as a city employee. But the job can be dangerous. 

"We had a team member lose his life six or seven years ago," Abdul-Waali said. "It still feels like yesterday."

Armed only with information about job training resources and talk of better choices, Abdul-Waali and his team approach anyone that will listen.

At a crowded bus stop he shouted, "What are the solutions to violence?"

An unidentified man answered back, "quit glamorizing violence, quit glamorizing violence."

Abdul-Waali is not a police officer, and often sees things that would give an officer grounds to make an arrest.

He said the Cure Violence team does not "snitch" when they see illegal activity occur.

"You don’t want to get in the way of people hustling on this corner," he said. "Selling drugs, whatever you're doing classified as illegal, it's not our job to get in the way."

He said their mission is to interrupt violence, and if the group is perceived as snitches, it would harm their street credibility.

Rick Rosenfeld is a criminologist along as well as an UMSL professor. After examining the Cure Violence program, he says results are murky. 

"The research record on Cure Violence is mixed at best," he said. 

Rosenfeld believes more research on the model needs to be done in cities across the nation to determine its effectiveness.

When asked if he’s optimistic it will work in St. Louis he said, "Hopeful. I think optimistic is strong, but hopeful given its enormous cost."

According to a spokesperson for Mayor Lyda Krewson, the city will spend more than $6 million on Cure Violence and hopes to see it launch by April 1.

In Kansas City, the Health Department provided these numbers.

Homicides vs. Staff Size

The graph shows homicides going up and down depending on the number of Cure Violence employees deployed on the streets.

In Kansas City those employees are not deployed city-wide, but instead in a neighborhood with a disproportionate share of gun violence.

In 2019, Kansas City saw more homicides than the previous year.

"If we weren't there, there would be more homicides. When the city was trending up we were staying stable or trending down in the areas we worked,” Junaid said. 

According to the Kansas City Health Department, shootings decreased between 2017 and 2018 in the sector of the city where Cure Violence employees canvassed the streets.

When violence happens, Cure Violence employees are not contacted by the Kansas City Police.

Abdul-Waali believes it would improve the program if police contacted them immediately after a homicide.

"If a homicide or shooting happens we get outside that area and temper things down,” he said. 

Frederick Echols is the director at the St. Louis Health Department.

When asked if police will contact Cure Violence employees in St. Louis he said protocols for how police and interrupters will interact have not been established. 

Rosenfeld isn’t opposed to Cure Violence, but he believes another program might have better results. He favors an approach known as "focused deterrence," focusing on known criminals and those likely to reoffend.

In those cases, criminals are offered a two-prong message according to Rosenfeld.

The message includes letting criminals know police know exactly who they are, and law enforcement wants to make sure they aren’t killed, or kill someone else.

“That program has a substantial research base and every study shows, when well executed, it reduces violence and crime,” Rosenfeld said.

In St. Louis, police offered no comment on whether they considered the "focused deterrence" approach.

According to a spokesperson for Mayor Lyda Krewson, the city hopes to see the Cure Violence model work in conjunction with police.

The program will be rolled out in portions of three different neighborhoods this spring, including Walnut Park East and West, Dutchtown, and Wells-Goodfellow.

Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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