Mayor looking into program to 'Cure Violence' in Jacksonville

Nonprofit Cure Violence aims to treat crime as health issue

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor, Kent Justice - Anchor/reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The mayor of Jacksonville is looking to take one more step to stop the violence by investing in a nonprofit program that looks at crime as a disease and treats the symptoms.

It’s called Cure Violence and it could be up and running in the city in the next couple of months.

Mayor Lenny Curry said he got the idea from State Attorney Melissa Nelson, who’s aware of the success in other high-crime cities.

"Cure Violence, one of the things they do is they bring what's called the credible messenger and the violence interrupter," Nelson told News4Jax earlier this month during a conversation with city leaders.

Killings make the news almost every day in Jacksonville. Many victims of violence are taken to UF Health. Others don’t make it to the hospital.

From City Hall to the trauma center, people are tired of the violence. 

"Oh man, it’s incredibly frustrating," Curry said Wednesday. "It, frankly, makes me angry."

Curry told News4Jax he's testing out the program Cure Violence, which looks at crime similar to a health issue -- detecting problems, treating the highest risk individuals and changing the social culture. 

"It’s another tool that has a history of results. So we are treating it like an epidemic, treating it like a disease," the mayor said. "We try to disrupt those causes as you would for a disease."

The mayor said he's investing $7,500 from the city budget for an assessment on what it would cost to get it in place. 

"Beyond just arresting and enforcing the bad guys, let’s figure out those that have been exposed to crime at a young age before they make a bad decision, get to them and get them in after-school programs, summer programs," Curry said. "We need the community's involvement."

The program been successful in high-crime cities such as Chicago where it started, as well as New York, Baltimore and Oakland. 

"It has been demonstrated to be viable and sustainable," said Dr. Marie Crandall, a trauma surgeon, professor of surgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine Jacksonville and researcher at UF Health.

Crandall has worked with the Cure Violence organization in big cities, saying they hire people in the community to pound the pavement, find victims of crime and their families, and identify the problem areas and work to fix them. 

"We have been taught to think of violence as being a bad guy doing bad things. We know that violence is a public health problem, that violence is a symptom of distrust in the community. So violence is definitely overrepresented in our poor and disenfranchised community," Crandall said. "Without addressing those things and without addressing interpersonal conflicts that people solve with violence, using a cure violence messenger model is really challenging."

A study by the Department of Justice found Cure Violence reduced shootings and killings by 41 percent to 73 percent. 

The mayor doesn't know the total cost of the program. He's still waiting for the assessment, but he said he’ll likely use money from the city, as well as private companies and nonprofits.

Ben Frazier with community advocacy group

Meanwhile, community advocacy group the Northside Coalition received a $10,000 grant for crime prevention It will be used to promote an “Increase the Peace” music contest and concert.

Ben Frazier, with the Northside Coalition, said he has championed the use of Cure Violence in meetings and in emails to the mayor, the City Council and the sheriff.

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