Sacramento group backs away from Ceasefire anti-gang program

Published: Sunday, Jul. 28, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Jul. 29, 2013 - 7:56 am

An organization that played a key role in starting an anti-gang effort in Sacramento has suspended its direct involvement with the city, alleging that the Ceasefire program is floundering from a lack of commitment from city and police leaders.

Leaders from Sacramento Area Congregations Together say they will continue to do community outreach and training to combat gang violence. But they will no longer report their services as required by the California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention (CalGRIP) grant that funds the local Ceasefire program.

ACT's move is the result of "serious concerns about the current implementation of Ceasefire and the lack of partnership and decision-making which was the previous norm," the Rev. Charles Warner wrote in a letter to the city last week.

"In the last six months, Ceasefire's implementation in the city has gone through a major transition and the city's commitment to following best practice and an evidence-based approach is uncertain," Warner wrote.

City officials countered that they remain committed to Ceasefire and that the program can continue without ACT's involvement.

"We have a vast number of religious groups throughout the community with which we've been working," city spokeswoman Linda Tucker said in a statement. "In fact, we are in the process of reaching out to more faith-based organizations to ask them to help us reach gang members and encourage them to consider an alternative lifestyle."

Police Chief Sam Somers Jr. said his department is complying with the terms of the CalGRIP grant, but that he does not believe Ceasefire is the best answer to the city's gang problems. Instead, he is focusing on a new gang-intervention program he calls "Cops and Clergy."

"I don't think that was a good model for our community," Somers said of Ceasefire. "With that, we developed some great relationships (with clergy) and from those relationships we're able to build … something we think works better for our community."

Officially launched in Sacramento in late 2010 – with significant involvement from ACT – Ceasefire has been focused primarily along the Mack Road corridor, where two rival gangs have warred.

It is based on a model created in Boston and replicated in cities across the country, including Chicago and Los Angeles. Supporters describe it as an evidence-based approach that has resulted in double-digit percentage declines in gang violence in many cities.

Stockton, which launched Ceasefire at the start of this year, has seen homicides fall by about 65 percent compared with the same six-month period last year, said Stewart Wakeling, executive director of the California Partnership for Safe Communities, which provides support for cities launching Ceasefire programs.

Though the model can be tailored to individual cities, supporters say it works best when four basic components are present:

• A partnership of police, prosecutors, community members and service providers that makes decisions about the program;

• Data analysis that identifies youths driving the violence and measures outcomes of the program;

• "Call-ins," or town-hall-style meetings in which community members talk to identified at-risk youths about their choices;

• The availability of services for youths who want to improve their lives, and increased police enforcement for those who don't.

ACT leaders say they are disappointed that the so-called "Boston model" of Ceasefire has eroded in Sacramento, rendering it less effective than it could be.

"Right now, it's kind of a sham effort going on," said Alicia Ross, the outgoing executive director of ACT.

Ross said the decision-making power has moved from a coalition of local community members and city officials to strictly city officials, damaging the program's community accountability aspect. She also noted that "call-ins" have been scaled back sharply.

"We've taken some big steps backward (from) a serious commitment to addressing violence," Ross said.

Ross' replacement will join ACT in September. ACT leaders will use the remainder of the year to "assess how to best move forward with our efforts to reduce gang violence," according to Warner's letter.

Ross said ACT's suspension of the agreement with the city would result in the city losing $50,000 of the city's $455,000, two-year CalGRIP (California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention) grant. However, city spokeswoman Tucker said the city has other means of getting the services ACT provided and therefore will not lose any grant money.

City officials acknowledge that Sacramento's Ceasefire does not reflect the Boston model for several reasons, including less funding, a more diverse demographic and a different gang culture, Tucker said.

Somers said that as deputy chief, he spearheaded the Sacramento Police Department's involvement in Ceasefire, and spoke at numerous call-ins in 2011. But he said he does not have enough officers, nor the evidence, to justify that level of commitment to the program now.

Since taking the helm, Somers launched his "Cops and Clergy" program with the help of more than a dozen clergy leaders in the city's north and south areas. The religious leaders team with gang detectives to have conversations with at-risk youths and their families.

He said residents should not misconstrue his feelings about Ceasefire as evidence of a lack of commitment to intervention and prevention.

"That's the direction our entire organization is going," he said. "I think Cops and Clergy is working in a more efficient manner."

Call The Bee's Kim Minugh, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter @kim_minugh.

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