As Jacksonville grapples with the recent uptick in its murder rate, city officials are considering hiring a Chicago-based nonprofit that promises solutions.
The city already paid Cure Violence $7,500 to come down to town this week and assess how its program could work in Jacksonville. Mayor Lenny Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams and State Attorney Melissa Nelson will hear its presentation on Thursday.
At the Kids Hope Alliance offices on Wednesday, Cure Violence Director of Training Marcus McAllister said his organization approaches violence as a public health problem.
“We treat it the same way you would treat an epidemic,” he said. “We interrupt transmission, we change the behavior associated with it, and we change the community norms.”
Cure Violence does this by hiring what it calls “credible messengers,”, people who live in the communities where they work, are known to high-risk people, and may have in past been incarcerated or shot.
McAllister and his team train messengers how to intervene and mediate conflict. McAllister said implementing the program for one site would likely cost Jacksonville about $400,000 a year.
Damien Cook, who’s heading the assessment for the city of Jacksonville, said the decision ultimately rests with Curry, and so far the Mayor likes what he’s seen.
“He’s very very interested in the model. He wants to see the success,” Cook said. “They’ve had success in a lot of different situations, and that speaks for itself. If we think there can be success here, he’s stated time and again that reducing crime is his top priority and he’s supported it in the budget. He’ll certainly continue to make decisions like that.”
Cook said the city is interested in potentially piloting Cure Violence in a single high crime area before expanding the program.
The presentation comes days after Democrats Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Tracie Davis said it’s time to declare a state of emergency following a string of shootings that have left six dead in four days.
So far, 21 people have been murdered in 2019 in Jacksonville, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
Violent crime has risen over the past couple of years, and Jacksonville has been Florida’s murder capital for most of the past two decades. That led some residents at the presentation to question the administration’s motives for taking action now.
“People are dying in our streets,” said community activist and Eastside barbershop owner Dana Miller. “We need people seriously concerned about what’s going on, not making this a political event or just to win election or something.”
Miller said he likes the program and thinks it could work. His only concern is city officials’ not following through on funding the program a few years down the road.
Cook said the city began talks with Cure Violence six months ago and expects to make a decision after it receives the full assessment next month.