A youth supporter of Brooklyn's CeaseFire project holds  a sign with a strong anti-violence message. *Photo courtesy of soscrownheights.org
A youth supporter of Brooklyn's CeaseFire project holds  a sign with a strong anti-violence message. *Photo courtesy of soscrownheights.org
FRIDAY, JUNE 10: Pioneering US-style tactics to deal with guns and gang violence could be used on the streets of Bermuda.

Ex-gang members and paroled prisoners could be drafted in to neighbourhoods scarred by gun violence to lower the temperature in a bid to avoid tit-for-tat killings.

Government is considering adopting the CeaseFire model developed in Chicago after -visiting the Crown Heights -Community Mediation Center’s Save Our Streets (SOS) scheme in New York as part of a fact-finding mission.

SOS workers target areas hit by violence and even hold late-night barbecues in the aftermath of shootings to cut down on tension and the risk of retaliation.

Lt. Col. Eddie Lambe, -Commissioner of Prisons, said a team involving senior members from a variety of Government agencies visited around a dozen programmes in America.

He said: “One of the programmes visited that stood out was the Crown Heights Community -Mediation Center’s Save Our Streets programme.

“The SOS programme is -specifically geared towards ending gang-related shootings in the community.

“It uses a strategy that includes providing residents with links to resources in education, parenting, housing and immigration.

“It provides support to young people navigating the challenges of a community tainted by violence, drugs and poverty and galvanizing neighbourhood, borough and city stakeholders in order to improve the quality of life for all residents.”

Amy Ellenbogen, director of the SOS programme in Crown Heights, in Brooklyn, which is modelled on CeaseFire, said some of the eight staff on the programme had experience of violence, crime and prison.

Speaking to the Bermuda Sun from Brooklyn yesterday, she said: “All of them have street credibility — they are people who have the trust of the individuals who might be involved in gang violence.

“Not all of them are ex-gang members, but they’re all people who are respected by people who might be involved in gangs.

“Some were in gangs, some have been incarcerated, but all of them are people who can intervene in a violent situation which has got out of hand.”

She added: “The model is being used all over the country and in different places in the world. It’s transferrable for sure. In some ways, the smaller the community, the better because it’s based on trust. New York has very small, compact areas and it’s worked well here.”

The CeaseFire programme was launched in Chicago in 2000 after a wave of shootings and the model is now used all over the US and in Iraq.

CeaseFire reduced shootings in one area of the city by 67 per cent in its first year and a Department of Justice-funded three-year evaluation of the programme found that shootings and killings were reduced by between 41 and 73 per cent in areas where it was used.

The programme was also found to have had a 100 per cent reduction in tit-for-tat killings in five of the eight communities examined.

Lt Col. Lambe said the SOS version of the programme had five key elements — a street-level approach, public education, community mobilization, faith leader involvement and law enforcement.

But he added that the week-long trip underlined that police and enforcement tactics alone could not solve gang and gun crime. Lt Col. Lambe said: “Community policing and relationship building between agencies promotes information sharing.

“The best information about young people becoming gang members and pertaining to gang activities comes from the schools. Schoolteachers are on the front line of being able to detect the formation of gangs. Gang education in schools should become a part of professional development for teachers.”

Lt Col. Lambe added that research had shown that 80 per cent of the guns in Jamaica originated in just three counties in Miami, Florida.

He said: “Research is needed to determine where and how guns are being trafficked into Bermuda. The results can help to determine how best to protect our borders.”

Acting Minister for National Security Michael Weeks said: “A report will be out soon with regard to the hows and the whens. And recommendations on the steps we can take.”

The US visit, which involved staff from education, police, the legal system, prisons, immigration, HM Customs and child and family services, reflecting the make-up of Government’s Interagency Anti-Gang Task Force.

Acting Minister of National Security Michael Weeks said: “The visit was made possible with the help of US Consul General Grace Shelton, while the costs were paid by the US Department of State.

Ms Shelton said: “This exchange exemplifies the strong collaboration between our two countries.

“The trip also provided an excellent networking opportunity for team members. We hope that they can draw on the contacts made during the trip in the years to come.

“But the exchange experience is not only about Bermudians learning about American programmes, it’s also a mutual exchange of ideas between Americans and Bermudians. It provides a superlative networking opportunity for both sides.”