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The director of the Office for Safe & Healthy Neighborhoods pitched Metro Council members Wednesday on why their funding for violence prevention programs should be doubled in the next city budget, as the department seeks to expand its number of “No More Red Dots” sites from one to four.

According to Mayor Greg Fischer’s proposed city budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the Office for Safe & Healthy Neighborhoods would receive $2,577,400, far exceeding the $1,226,100 the department received in the revised budget for the current year ending on July 1.

When he unveiled this proposed budget in April, Fischer said that it would add $2 million to expand the department’s Cure Violence initiative, which treats violent crime like a public health department would combat the spread of a disease. The No More Red Dots program — run by the LIFE Hope Center on contract with the city — uses reformed individuals with criminal pasts as “interrupters” to detect, identify and treat the individuals in an area who are at the highest risk of committing violence.

While this initiative is currently headquartered only in Portland and is largely composed of part-time staff, OSHN Director Rashaad Abdur-Rahman told Metro Council members Wednesday that $2.5 million of funding in the next budget would allow them to expand to four sites in areas with large amounts of homicides and shootings and start hiring more interrupters to work on a full-time basis.

“We’ve done this work at charitable funding levels for a very long time,” said Abdur-Rahman. “And the reality is that with a fully funded budget, the amount of transformation in terms of reductions in shootings and homicides, reductions in retaliatory violence, can grow exponentially.”

Abdur-Rahman noted that there has been a 22 percent reduction in homicides so far in 2018, adding that expanding the department’s efforts can help bring down those totals even more. He also cited the department’s Pivot to Peace program — which intervenes at University Hospital with shooting victims to prevent the cycle of retaliation — as having worked with 66 survivors, with only three of those being reinjured later.

Asked what would be needed to fully fund the department’s Cure Violence initiative, Abdur-Rahman said that the $2.5 million “will give us some resourcing to really demonstrate some strong outcomes” and “would be very beneficial.”

No More Red Dots would be able to expand to sites in other high-crime areas like Russell, Parkland and Shawnee, and he said, they’ve already begun to scope out potential headquarters for such sites.

According to the 2017-2018 year-end report of No More Red Dots that was handed out to council members Wednesday, the program is heavily involved in these neighborhoods, in addition to California, Victory Park, Park Hill, Smoketown and Shelby Park. Interrupters averaged over 500 contacts per month in these neighborhoods, in addition to gang mediations, interventions, hospital de-escalations, court appearances and job placements.

The No More Red Dots report extensively details many of the gang rivalries in Louisville and how young people are often lured into serving as violent enforcers and shooters for each gang. Dr. Eddie Woods, the coordinator of NMRD who has worked to reduce violence among these populations in the city for three decades, told Metro Council that he estimates there are up to 1,400 people in the city who are involved in gang activity in some way.

The report also states that Louisville “is the only one of the Cure Violence cities” in the country that is “using part-time trained people,” adding that the group “needs the funding to do effective programming with full-time people.”

Councilwoman Jessica Green, D-1, and Councilman Vitalis Lanshima, D-21, both told Abdur-Rahman that the department’s violence prevention programs should be funded even more than what is being proposed, which is inadequate to meet the current needs of the city.

Abdur-Rahman replied that for his department to expand fully to six sites, it would cost $3.1 million — mirroring what he had told the Steering Committee for Action on Louisville’s Agenda in March when asked what would be needed to fully implement a Cure Violence model.

In response to Green and Lanshima calling for more funding, Woods said “we’re asking for short money, Rashaad’s asking for short money,” noting that Brooklyn’s Cure Violence program gets $28 million and he needs interrupters in Louisville to start getting full-time work.

When Metro Council voted for a resolution expressing no confidence in Louisville Metro Police Department Chief Steve Conrad last August, Mayor Fischer fired back in a statement that too many council members simplistically targeted the chief, while “cutting funding to important public safety programs like Cure Violence.”

Metro Council will continue to have budget meetings in the next three weeks, and is expected to approve next year’s city budget on June 26.

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]


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