York City mayor, chief present CeaseFire to council

Sean Philip Cotter

York City's mayor and police chief, along with the coordinator they've selected, on Tuesday presented to city council their plan for a policing program they hope will cut down on violence.

Mayor Kim Bracey, Police Chief Wes Kahley and Jim Tice, the coordinator, spoke to council and fielded questions from the public about the "group-violence intervention" program, which involves the city's contracting nationally renowned criminologist David M. Kennedy's National Network for Safe Communities.

Bracey spoke first, talking about the scope of CeaseFire York, a three-year program meant to reduce violent crime, which the city first announced it was considering in June.

"We know this initiative won't address all of society's ills," she said. "But there's evidence to suggest it will save a life or two."

The program, which Kahley called a holistic approach, is modeled after Kennedy's work in Boston in the 1990s and has seen successes in other cities. Bracey said city officials have been in regular contact with their counterparts in High Point, North Carolina, and Newburgh, New York, which she said have both seen marked improvements in violent crime rates and are of comparable size to York City.

Mayor Bracey
Mayor Bracey speaks to the York City Council on Tuesday, Aug. 16, about a program to deter violence in the city.

Tice  said one of the main parts of the program is creating partnerships between the city, law enforcement and local organizations. A major goal, he said, is making sure at-risk people are more easily able to find the entities that can help them.

"This isn't just a law-enforcement problem — it's a community problem," said Tice a former chief of treatment for the Department of Corrections, liaison for anti-crime Weed and Seed programs and anti-gang coordinator for the U.S. Attorney's office for the state's eastern district. As the program's coordinator, he will be tasked with keeping the three general pieces of the program together: law enforcement, community resources and community members, he told The York Dispatch after the meeting. So Tice has been spending a lot of time around different parts of the city, trying to get people on board, he said.

York City ready to roll out CeaseFire program

Resident Ken Woerthwein, who's on the city's human relations commission, at the meeting asked what community organizations the city and law enforcement are trying to partner with. Bracey and Tice tossed out a few names, such as the United Way, York Rescue Mission and Katallasso Family Health Center. After the meeting, Tice, a former chaplain, spoke about going into churches and getting other types of community leaders involved, whether they be teachers or former gang members.

"We are very hopeful to have employers around the tables, too," Bracey said to council.

Local activist Stephanie Seaton asked what the expected timetable for the project will be.

Tice said there wasn't anything hard and fast yet, but the officials have started building relationships and are moving toward putting things in motion.

Of the four city council members present — councilwoman Sandie Walker, was absent — two spoke up about the program.

Council Vice President Michael Helfrich asked where the money was coming from to fund the program, which will cost $300,000. Bracey said the majority of the funding had been secured from private sources, and the city is pursuing other sources and grants to cover the rest. The administration has repeated that no taxpayer money will be spent on this initiative.

Helfrich and Councilman Henry Nixon spoke in favor of the program. Nixon commended the administration on being proactive.

Jim Tice, coordinator for York City's Group Violence Intervention initiative

CeaseFire York: The program is premised around an idea that Kahley already has voiced repeatedly: A very small number of people in any city are perpetrating the vast majority of violent crimes, so it follows that to cut down on the violent crime, law enforcement has to identify and target that small group of people, who are often involved in gangs or the drug trade, according to Kennedy.

Kennedy's strategy for doing so involves the metaphorical carrot and stick. In his initiatives, police work with social services and community partners to identify and then "call in" — often using the probation department or some other immediate threat of arrest — violent offenders to a moderated community meeting. In the weeks before, law enforcement will have carried out a major raid on one of the local criminal groups to show the cops mean business, according to what's essentially a broad how-to guide Kennedy's organization has for these programs.

At the meetings, authorities offer the attending criminals first a "moral message against the violence," then a helping hand in the form of social-services programs, such as mental-health treatment, education and job-placement programs. And then there's the threat: Take the carrot, or else the heavy stick of the criminal-justice system will come down on the entire gang if any one member shoots someone.

"We're not just looking at one person — we're looking at who they run with," Tice said.

BLOG: New approach to policing in York City?

Tice said there's still much to do before the call-ins would take place. The people in charge of the project locally have to go  to New York City and undergo training, and more community partnerships have to be made.

But eventually, the work will culminate in these call-ins.

"We're going to start with a few and then build on that," Tice said.

— Reach Sean Cotter atscotter@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.

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