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A skyline that sprouts new buildings at a dizzying pace. Neighborhoods dotted with new breweries and renovated mills. Thousands of new apartments springing up beside light rail lines. The signs of Charlotte’s booming prosperity are everywhere. But that prosperity isn’t spread evenly. And from Charlotte’s “corridors of opportunity,” it can seem a long way off, more like a distant promise than the city’s reality.

Charlotte's 'violence interrupters' show promise, study finds

Charlotte's Alternatives to Violence team checks in before canvassing neighborhoods. From left: Donnell Gardner, Dimitros Jordan, Larry Mims and Leondra Garrett.
Lisa Worf
Charlotte's Alternatives to Violence team checks in before canvassing neighborhoods. From left: Donnell Gardner, Dimitros Jordan, Larry Mims and Leondra Garrett.

A program that deploys what are called “violence interrupters” on Charlotte’s west side has shown some promise in its early results. In a study released Wednesday, UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute looked at the first year it was up and running — and found that violence dropped where the interrupters were deployed.

Charlotte’s Alternatives to Violence team includes trained community members who make connections and address problems without involving the police.

In its first year, the team spent more than 1,500 hours canvassing neighborhoods along the Beatties Ford Road Corridor. That's one of six historically low-income areas designated by Charlotte as "Corridors of Opportunity," where the city hopes to focus public and private investment to spur revitalization.

Before they go out, they share assessments like violence interrupter Dmitros Jordan did on a recent afternoon.

“I've been keeping my ear to the streets, but right now it is really dead as far as violence and shootings and stuff like that,” Jordan told his team.

Many of these historically overlooked thoroughfares still have higher crime rates than Mecklenburg County as a whole. Now, the city is trying some new approaches to turn things around as neighborhood groups continue their efforts to create safe, inviting communities.

The study found those neighborhoods saw lower rates of homicides committed with a gun compared to similar neighborhoods in Charlotte.

Researchers cited the credibility of staff, their training and the connections they’re able to make as strengths. The team mediated 44 conflicts its first year — 13 of which did not escalate to violence. Thirty-one, however, did escalate to some form of violence. The interrupters also worked with 23 teenagers and young men deemed at risk for violent behaviors.

“Investing in prevention strategies that foster supportive relationships, promote educational achievement and cultivate strong social skills and competencies is beneficial for youth,” said Urban Institute Research Associate Angelique Gaines.

Alternatives to Violence began its work in August 2021. Wells Fargo and the Greenlight Fund donated $1.2 million to launch it.

The national group Youth Advocate Programs runs the team. They'll expand the program to two other locations with high violent-crime rates: the area around Nations Ford and Arrowood roads and the West Boulevard/Remount Road area.

“Beyond the scope of this program, it will be important for the broader community to continue to invest in historically disinvested communities like Beatties Ford to support sustained violence prevention,” said Rachel Jackson-Gordon, research associate for the Urban Institute. “We hope the work of the ATV program, combined with broader city and county initiatives, will foster community safety so that residents can thrive in their neighborhoods.”

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Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.