Updated Oct. 3 with approval by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment
Funding to start a nationally recognized anti-violence program in St. Louis has cleared another hurdle.
The Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which oversees the city’s budget, approved spending $5 million of the city’s $23 million surplus on Cure Violence. The vote on Thursday comes less than a week after the Board of Aldermen gave unanimous first-round approval to the money, and sets up a final board vote on Friday.
“This is a historic and significant time in our city, to consider violence-prevention alternatives,” said Mayor Lyda Krewson. “We’ve been talking for years, really, how to curb violence in our city. I think Cure Violence will provide the synergy that we need.”
Krewson had initially been skeptical of spending the money without looking at different options, but said a lot of discussions and meetings made it clear that Cure Violence is the direction to take.
Original story from Sept. 24:
The St. Louis Board of Aldermen’s public safety committee has voted to spend $5 million of a budget surplus on the nationally recognized Cure Violence program.
Applause broke out among a capacity crowd at City Hall on Tuesday following the unanimous vote. If there are no delays, supporters of the program say it could be operating in St. Louis within six months.
“I’m so excited about today,” Board President Lewis Reed said after the meeting. “I don’t think people understand the sheer magnitude of the type of change we’re talking about ushering into the city, being able to get on the front end of the public safety issue and address the root cause in a very targeted way.”
The committee vote came a day after the city saw four people shot and killed in a 24-hour period, with a fifth critically hurt. That’s the 36th time this year multiple people have died in a single day.
Reed had originally been seeking to spend $8 million of the surplus on Cure Violence, which would cover the cost of the program for three years. That’s still the amount he’s hoping to get, but it’ll come from several sources.
The city’s budget for fiscal 2020 included a $500,000 line item in the corrections budget for “violence prevention services.” The Board of Estimate and Apportionment — Mayor Lyda Krewson, Comptroller Darlene Green and Reed — voted last week to transfer another $1.5 million from a jail groundskeeping account to violence-prevention services.
Reed’s bill transfers the remaining $400,000 of that groundskeeping money into a different fund, this one under the control of the health department and meant specifically for Cure Violence. It then puts $4.6 million of the city’s $23 million surplus into that Cure Violence bucket. Finally, he wants to take the $2 million that’s sitting in generic “violence prevention services” and earmark it for Cure Violence, bringing the total amount available for Cure Violence to $7 million. He’ll then go back to the board at a future date and ask for the last $1 million.
Reed has been advocating for Cure Violence for almost a year. The program trains individuals from communities with high rates of crime, especially those who were previously involved with violence, to intervene in conflicts to prevent them from turning into the next homicide or shooting. He says it’s led to reductions in violent crime of 40% to 60% in every city where it’s been tried.
“I’m hearing people say this is something that we don’t know for sure and it’s a gamble,” said Marcus McAllister, a trainer with Cure Violence. “We don’t know for sure about a lot of things, but one thing we can say for sure about Cure Violence is that we have a boatload of evidence to back it up. At least we can back it up with evidence of multiple, multiple cities.”
But some research doesn’t entirely validate Reed and McAllister’s claims. A 2015 paper by professors at four universities found that while there was “some evidence in support of the approach at the level of jurisdictions or communities,” none of the previous studies they looked at “could clearly disentangle the results from the national and regional trends in violent crime.”
And even those who applauded the committee’s vote urged the board to do more.
“Cure Violence is only a very small part of what we need to do,” said Inez Bordeaux, the manager of community collaborations at the legal advocacy group ArchCity Defenders and an organizer with the Close the Workhouse campaign. “We need to divest from the arrest-and-incarcerate model. That means taking money away from the things that do not make us safer and putting those resources into the things that actually do make us safer.”
The $5 million appropriation still requires the approval of the full Board of Aldermen and Krewson. The Board of Estimate and Apportionment must also approve the transfer of the money from the public safety department to the health department. That process should take about a month, Reed said.
“I think you always have to be worried about internal holdups,” he said. “But there are a lot of eyes on this right now, and they’re really working to hold people accountable and keep things moving. We owe it to everybody.”
Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards said in a statement that he was “in a wait-and-see posture on this.”
“I think that alternative violence programs and preventative measures and initiatives always have some good components. And these programs probably have some value. I would like to see programs that benefit the entire St. Louis area as opposed to a limited number of neighborhoods,” he said. “This is just one piece. We need other types of proactive programs as well.”
A spokesman for Green said she would not comment on the proposal until she has had a chance to review it.
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