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Crime & Justice

Mecklenburg County's Violence Interruption Program Moves Forward After Pandemic Delays

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Jessa O'Conner
/
WFAE
Mourners lit candles in remembrance of Butler High school student Bobby McKeithen, who was killed by another student who brought a gun to school in 2018.

The Mecklenburg County Health Department is moving forward with plans to establish a violence interruption program in hopes of stemming violent crime, especially gun violence, in Charlotte.

Plans for the program have been in the works since January 2020, but its rollout was delayed by the pandemic. The county now says it has selected a national nonprofit called Youth Advocate Programs to implement the program and hire its staff in the coming weeks.

Mecklenburg County's deputy health director, Raynard Washington, says the goal is to hire five to seven full-time violence interrupters plus two caseworkers and initially focus on the Beatties Ford Road and Lasalle Street corridor.

He says the county wants to hire people already embedded in the neighborhood.

"You definitely have to be from the community or indigenous to the community, otherwise everything doesn't work," he said.

Ideally, the violence interrupters would have firsthand experience with violence and could anticipate conflicts and talk people out of committing violent crime.

Washington said the violence interrupters would also likely be called to crime scenes or hospitals after a shooting and talk with victims and perpetrators to try to prevent retaliation. They would also organize events like basketball tournaments or backyard cookouts to foster a sense of community and positive energy.

The program's structure was originally developed by the nonprofit organization Cure Violence Global. The organization has worked with at least 11 other cities to implement violence interruption programs, including Durham and Greensboro.

Washington says the Charlotte program will eventually broaden out to other areas of the city that have experienced high levels of violent crime.

The program will be funded by the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, which are contributing $250,000 each to its pilot phase.

Washington says the county wants to have the program staffed and operating by the end of the summer.

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