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York City ready to roll out CeaseFire program

David Weissman
505-5431/@DispatchDavid
  • York City will begin implementing CeaseFire York specifically to reduce gang and youth gun violence.
  • The three-year program is expected to cost approximately $100,000 per year.
  • Jim Tice, retired from U.S. Attorney's Office, has been hired as program's project coordinator.

York City Mayor Kim Bracey announced Wednesday morning that the city is preparing to begin implementing a program aimed at reducing gang and youth violence.

York City Police investigate a fatal shooting on S. Court St. near Maple St., Thursday, June 16, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

Bracey spoke at the county commissioners' meeting about CeaseFire York, a three-year "group violence intervention" program that the city first announced it was considering in June.

The program has been successful in other cities large and small, cutting down on gang and youth violence by providing the means for gang members to get out of that lifestyle — and promising tough consequences if they don't take it, Bracey said.

Bracey was joined in her presentation by city spokeswoman Edquina Washington, York City Police Lt. Troy Bankert and Jim Tice, a retired U.S. Attorney's Office employee who will serve as the program's project coordinator.

Funding secured: Bracey said in June the program would cost approximately $100,000 per year, and Washington later said that the city has secured "just about all" of the funding needed.

City council President Carol Hill-Evans said the council has not approved any funding for the program, but its implementation wouldn't require the council's approval if no city dollars were required.

Bracey had previously said her administration would seek grants and local partnerships to help cover the costs.

Hill-Evans said she hopes the program is successful, but she hasn't heard anything about it since Bracey first announced the city's interest in June. City council's next meeting is Aug. 16, and Hill-Evans said she wouldn't be given the agenda until Aug. 12.

Washington said Bracey will make a presentation similar to Wednesday's to the council on Aug. 16. Washington declined to comment on how the outside funds were acquired, but she said more information would be released at a later date.

York City moves toward policing reform plan

The program: The city has contracted The National Network of Safe Communities, which oversees the program that has been implemented in cities including Chicago, Baltimore and New Orleans, Washington confirmed.

It was developed by nationally renowned criminologist David M. Kennedy under the name Operation Ceasefire.

Criminologist David M. Kennedy

It's premised around an idea that York City Police Chief Wes Kahley already has repeatedly voiced: A very small number of people in a place are perpetrating the vast majority of violent crimes there, 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 gang.

Tice, who told commissioners that Bracey and Kahley were the only two people who could "draw (him) away from the golf course," said it's important for the city to identify credible community members who are tired of the violence.

Tice praised the program for its potential to prevent crime as opposed to just arresting criminals.

"All our money goes into prisons," he told the commissioners. "We need to put more into prevention."

Crime: Movement toward this program is about a half a year in the making, Bracey said previously. In December 2015, 16 people were reported shot in the city, including one fatally. Nineteen-year-old DaKeem Dennison was shot to death in what police have called a targeted home invasion.

Bankert, who will serve as the police department's operational liaison for the program, told commissioners that they had tracked 45 shootings in 45 days during a period from the end of November to beginning of January. Not all shootings involved victims, he added.

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Bracey told the commissioners that the program will specifically target gun violence, particularly among young people, but she added that city officials believe the program can later be replicated to reduce drug offenses as well.

"So many good things are happening in the city that it's a shame these negative things are clouding that," she said. "We know we need to address these gun violence issues."

Byrnes told Bracey that the county would gladly join the partnership in any way it can.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.