‘The Interrupters’ Premieres in Chicago Aug. 12
[Writer] This is research news from U-I-C – the University of Illinois at Chicago. Today, Gary Slutkin, professor of epidemiology and director of CeaseFire at the University of Illinois at Chicago, talks about the violence prevention project he founded and the filming of “The Interrupters” — a documentary that features the work of CeaseFire Chicago.
Here’s Dr. Slutkin:
[Skutkin] We have a new strategy for reducing violence and making neighborhoods safer and the film “Interrupters” show parts of how that’s done.
Our work helps neighborhoods get safer by treating violence like a disease. We interrupt conflicts that might otherwise cause someone to get shot. These interrupters are shown in the film.
We also work with people for a longer period of time to help change their thinking about violence and the film shows this as well. And with time, we work to shift the norms of the whole neighborhood.
Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz approached us about this film because we had a different idea than the usual ideas about how to make a neighborhood safer. And those ideas include working with people who used to be involved because they are so effective at working with the minds of people who are currently thinking about violence or who have a lot of difficulties.
Violence interrupters were invented by the CeaseFire program. What they do is they detect events that might happen. They are kind of intercepting whispers, detecting events that otherwise might result in a shooting. They know what’s going on in the neighborhoods. They get information from hospitals, from friends, from moms – and because of their training and their support they are able to effectively persuade people into not doing a shooting. And then they continue to work with them for a longer period of time so that their thinking changes. Not everybody knows that, in fact, there are 50 violence interrupters in Chicago now and, in fact; the CeaseFire method is working in over 15 cities around the country and five other countries.
Violence interrupters in Chicago, for example, have interrupted over 200 events just in the first 6 months of 2011. Violence interrupters have interrupted over 2000 events in the last 5 years.
The CeaseFire method, which looks at violence like a disease and treats it like a disease, prevents its spread. Therefore when one event doesn’t occur, other events don’t occur and the neighborhood remains safer.
Treating violence like a disease is something that we began to do about 15 years ago when we began to see that violence had characteristics like other infectious diseases. That is to say, one event, in this case a shooting, leads to another shooting just the way a case of flu or case of measles leads to another case of flu or another case of measles. So therefore, of course, we need to interrupt the spread.
Treating violence like an epidemic has turned out to be effective, as even proven by University-based studies. And many have been done now to show that treating violence like a disease actually works and is a new approach that more and more cities are using. The new CeaseFire method for making a neighborhood safer has now been recognized by all kinds of national and international groups; this includes the National League of Cities, the National Governor’s Association, even the Attorney General of the United States is speaking about it. We’ve been highlighted by the World Bank, written up in the New York Times, The Economist, and we’ve been described – this approach has been described as the approach of the future.
And this is being picked up by more and more cities – New York City, Baltimore, Kansas City, New Orleans – many of the most heavily impacted cities in our country and other countries, including now Trinidad and even Iraq are using this type of approach to reducing violence.
The film is highlighting a peak into some of the aspects of the work, notably the interruption, and some of the work on behavior change. Overall, this method has tremendous promise on reducing violence and changing the way we think – not only about the people, but also the approach that we should be using.
It used to be thought that in order to reduce violence people need to be taught a lesson, or punished. And then other people thought that we need to solve all kinds of social problems. But what we’ve learned by approaching this scientifically and in a new way is that it’s just a behavior and yet a spreadable behavior. So by approaching it through disease control methods and through behavior change we actually find a new way and a new breakthrough into how to make our neighborhoods safer.
And since it is now demonstrated that treating violence like a disease with interruption and behavior change does cause neighborhoods to be safer we now have a new way ahead – a new approach — new way of not only looking at the people but also solving this problem.
A lot of people think this is very hopeful.
[Writer] Gary Slutkin is professor of epidemiology and director of UIC’s CeaseFire project.
For more information about this research, go to www.news.uic.edu, click on “news releases.” and look for the release dated August 4, 2011.
This has been research news from U-I-C – the University of Illinois at Chicago.