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CeaseFire Cuts Back As City Grant Runs Out

CHICAGO (STMW) -- Staff members at CeaseFire said Friday that a $1 million city grant has run out, forcing the crime-fighting organization to close two offices and lay off some violence "interrupters," the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

The CeaseFire office in North Lawndale closed at the end of August, and one in Woodlawn will end operations in late September, said the Rev. Robin Hood, who worked for the group out of North Lawndale. He said that as a community leader, he is continuing anti-violence work as a volunteer but that a dozen part-time staffers were let go.

Other CeaseFire locations, such as in Roseland and Englewood, are unaffected because they run with backing from state grants, said Hood and James Highsmith, program manager in Englewood.

Money from the city's one-year grant ran out in August, said Brian Richardson, a spokesman for the city's Department of Public Health, which administered it. Richardson said it's possible that CeaseFire could qualify for another award.

Hood said discussions involving supportive alderman and the city are underway. "They're talking now, but the problem is we should be on the ground now," he said.

He said interventions by the group have led to a 75 percent reduction in shootings and homicides since August 2012.

"This summer we had guys that had been shooting each other actually working together. I've been with CeaseFire since 2002 and I've never seen anything like it," he said.

Highsmith said the closings should not affect other offices, such as his own. He said Englewood has seen a 42 percent reduction in shootings year-to-date compared with the same period in 2012.

Police reaction to CeaseFire has been mixed.

In the early months of the contract with the city, one ranking police source complained that CeaseFire was not providing timely information about its mediation of gang conflicts and had "no significant success stories."

Later, when the group took credit for a reduction in homicides, a Chicago Police Department spokesman attributed the decrease to a comprehensive policing strategy that includes "gang violence reduction initiative," "targeted narcotics initiative," "community policing" and "a close partnership between the Chicago Police Department and the community."

The spokesman said at the time that the department was continuing to work with CeaseFire "while we evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts."

CeaseFire's executive director, Dr. Gary Slutkin, could not be reached for comment, and a spokesman for the group's leaders did not immediately return a call.

The group employs people who often have criminal records to intervene in gang disputes and help antagonists find peaceful solutions.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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