An innovative new program is coming to Winston-Salem to curb violent crime rates.
In an effort to reduce gun violence in the city, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners and the city of Winston-Salem have partnered with two organizations — one national and one local — to reduce gun violence in the city.
Cure Violence is an international organization dedicated to interrupting violence by detecting and disrupting conflicts, identifying and treating individuals at the highest risk of reoffending, and changing social norms.
In 2021, Winston-Salem ended the year with a record number of 44 homicides, according to the Winston-Salem Police Department’s 2021 Annual Statistical Report.
After using Cure Violence, gun violence is down 30 percent in Philadelphia, while shootings were down 63 percent in New York City.
The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners approved a two-year contract with Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods, a local nonprofit focusing on resident-led community development in Winston-Salem, to operate the Cure Violence program in October 2022.
N4BN will be responsible for managing the overall operations of Cure Violence, including hiring staff members and following the project’s requirements and goals. The organization plans to work directly with community members to overcome barriers to access to employment and workforce training. They have already begun hiring, with plans to implement the program early next year.
Applications for roles with Better Neighborhoods are open and can be found online at Indeed.
Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods Executive Director Latoya Robinson estimates the collaboration will create eight job openings, including one site manager, one site director and two outreach workers. She believes the program will reduce violent crimes throughout the city.
“We’re hoping to get a lot of people interested and want to participate,” Robinson said. “[The goal is to] not only focus on interrupting the crime but trying to connect with people in the communities and connect them to resources to help address that community as a whole.”
Winston-Salem will be the third city in North Carolina to implement the Cure Violence program, following Greensboro and Durham.
Greensboro partnered with the organization in 2019 after the Greensboro City Council voted unanimously to give the program $500,000, as TCB has reported in the past.
In the fiscal year 2021-22, Durham’s Cure Violence initiative held 1,365 mediations, according to a presentation given to Durham City Council on Sept. 8.
These mediations may have led to a decrease in violence for the city, which saw a 9.05 percent decrease in violent crime from 2021 to November 2022, according to Durham Police Department Crime data.
In particular, violent crime committed by young people is a significant concern.
Rich Smith with the NC Dept. of Public Safety told TCB violent crime has decreased overall, but offenses are becoming more severe in Winston-Salem.
Winston-Salem saw a 6.8 percent decrease in violent crime compared to 2020, according to the Winston-Salem Police Department’s 2021 Annual Statistical Report.
Smith said there is a high percentage of youth at risk of reoffending within Forsyth County. Compared to the state’s overall recidivism level of 19 percent, in Forsyth County, 30 percent of youths who committed violent offenses did so again.
The model used to estimate rates of recidivism is calculated from data collected in three areas for each offender: pre-existing factors, such as criminal history; current involvement in the criminal justice system, including recent convictions; and measures of social reintegration, such as arrests during follow-up, according to North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission.
Robinson hopes the Cure Violence initiative will provide Winston-Salem with resources, community organizing, community engagement and mediation to prevent violence.
Once in operation, the Winston-Salem Police Department will continue to handle all criminal investigations, but Cure Violence will work directly in communities to curtail violence before it happens by talking with community members to better understand the root causes. This includes identifying at-risk individuals and working with them to change their behaviors and providing opportunities through job training, substance abuse treatment or help leaving gangs.
“We work with many different neighborhoods throughout Winston-Salem doing boots-on-the-ground work,” Robinson said. “Not only to focus on interrupting the crime but try to connect with those in the communities to find out if any resources are needed. We connect them to resources that help address the community as a whole.”
Cure Violence will also help “cool down emotions” after shootings or other violent crimes.
“We’ll have violence interrupters and those people will be working boots on the ground in the community, trying to help identify the folks involved in the [crimes] happening and help change some of those behaviors,” Robinson explained. “We’ll be doing ongoing mediations to address conflicts and community organizing to help mobilize community change within the area.”
The initiative will focus on Police Beat 222, areas between Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and New Walkertown Road to 18th Street and Bethlehem Lane east of US 52 in the city.
The decision to partner with Cure Violence has been in the planning stages since the start of 2022.
On March 3, 2022, Cure Violence was approved by the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners as an ARPA-funded project with a total budget of $1.5 million.
Forsyth County and Winston-Salem will each pay half over a three-year period.
The program has yet to start officially but is expected to run until the end of 2023, according to the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners meeting on Oct. 13.
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