Court Radio: New Methods of Fighting Gun Violence in Our Cities, tune in at 7 a.m. Sunday

Finding effective ways to sharply reduce gun violence in our cities is the aim of a national “CeaseFire” program that spread to Philadelphia last July.

On “Court Radio” at 7 a.m. tomorrow, Sunday, Marla Davis Bellamy, the director of Ceasefire Philadelphia, the latest of 12 U.S. cities to host the effort, will be our special guest to talk about the program and how it is being used in one of the city’s most dangerous police districts. Bellamy will join MyPhillyLawyer managing partner Dean Weitzman and his co-host David Rapoport on Court Radio to talk about efforts to stem gun violence.

Court Radio is broadcast live at 7 a.m. every Sunday morning on Philadelphia’s WRNB 100.3 FM, with a simulcast on Magic 95.9 FM in Baltimore. You can also listen live on the Internet at WRNB 100.3 or on Magic 95.9 via streaming audio.

The CeaseFire Philadelphia program, which is run through the Temple University Medical School’s Center for Bioethics, Urban Health and Policy, is the 12th such project in cities across the nation, Bellamy says. It was begun in one police district in Chicago about 15 years ago and now has spread to 25 districts there, where it is helping to reduce gun violence. Programs are being run in cities including Baltimore, New York City, Phoenix, East St. Louis, New Orleans and Oakland, Calif.

Marla Davis Bellamy, image courtesy Temple University

“We’re duplicating an effort started in Chicago by an epidemiologist who discovered that you can stop violence using same efforts that you use when fighting public health threats,” Bellamy says. “It’s a community-based approach. The premise is that violence is a public health issue and can be prevented.”

The program works by finding, hiring and training ex-offenders, whether they are former drug dealers, formerly involved in gun violence or involved in other serious crimes, and putting them onto the streets in targeted neighborhoods as outreach workers to help change attitudes and social norms, she says.

“They are charged with managing a caseload of 15 to 20 high-risk individuals,” Bellamy says. “Those individuals could be high-risk for gun violence, they could be members of a gang or they could even be gunshot victims. We’re actually looking to find the worst of the worst, primarily those who are the shooters,” to help change their attitudes and help them move on to more productive lives.

The caseworkers spend four to five hours a day on foot and walk through the target neighborhood, which in this case is in the 22nd Police District in North Philadelphia. The district stretches from 22nd and Lehigh streets to33rd and Lehigh, then from Fairmount Park to Poplar Street.

“They canvass that area walking the streets and talking to residents and business leaders, and through those connections identify individuals who could benefit through our program,” Bellamy says. “They recruit them to get them to turn their lives around, to start doing things the right way, to stop selling drugs, to stop shooting.”

The program works, she says, because it is ex-offenders who are going out and talking to current offenders and showing them how they were able to make effective changes in their own lives, she says. “We’re getting the ex-offenders involved because they’ve been there and have done that.”

The program in Philadelphia hired its first outreach workers last July and was in the planning stages for a year before getting underway.

“People need to really think about violence as a learned behavior rather than as a criminal element,” Bellamy says. “Many of our young people are just acting out or doing what they have seen all of their lives.”

And though the program here is still young, it is beginning to show good results, she says.

“We have definitely seen at least a 25 percent reduction in homicides or shootings in this calendar year in that district, which can be attributed at least in part due to the program,” Bellamy says.

The program in Baltimore has also been realizing good results, according to a story from CeaseFire Chicago.

“CeaseFire’s track-record for effectiveness in reducing shootings and killings was validated earlier this month in Baltimore by a three year Johns Hopkins University study of four historically violent neighborhoods—McElderry Park, Elwood Park, Madison-Eastend, Cherry Hill—showing a statistically significant decline in either homicides or nonfatal shootings or both in each of the communities,” the story reported.

Bellamy is a former chief of staff for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and learned of other CeaseFire programs around the nation through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The idea caught her interest and lured her to take her post.

In addition to her work with CeaseFire Philadelphia, she is the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Temple University Center for Health Law, Policy and Practice. She also holds a joint appointment at the law school and the medical school where she serves as the Executive Director of the Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities. She formerly served as the Executive Director of the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia. Bellamy earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Johnson C. Smith University, a Master of Governmental Administration degree from the Fels Center of Government at the University of Pennsylvania and a law degree from Temple University Beasley School of Law.

Be sure to join us for Court Radio at 7 a.m. Sunday to hear more about the CeaseFire programs with co-hosts Dean Weitzman and David Rapoport and their guest, Marla Davis Bellamy. And remember to call in with your own questions and comments.

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