Chicago's skyrocketing violence could be prevented by a program that Illinois won't fund

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As Chicago's violence and homicide rates continue to break their own records throughout 2016, the governor and state lawmakers have refused to fund an anti-violence program that's been proven to impact violence. CeaseFire, first developed in 2000 by University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health epidemiologist Gary Slutkin, approaches urban gun violence as a contagious disease, and attacks it as such. The program trains workers in a three-part approach to gun violence as a public health risk: Interruption of violent activity, behavior change of high-risk individuals, and further changing the norms of the larger community.

A new report published by CeaseFire's parent organization, Cure Violence, finds a correlation between funding of CeaseFire in Chicago—which has come in fits and spurts since 2004—and the level of violence in the city. Other independent studies support their findings.


Similar findings about the program have been reported in New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Kansas City, as well as some international cities that have implemented it, including Cape Town, Ciudad Juárez, and Sadr City, Iraq.


In October of last year, as Chicago's violent crime and homicide rates were increasing drastically, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner cut all state funding for the program, which was under $5 million, as part of his battle with Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly over the state's 2016 budget, which was never passed, making Illinois the only state without a working budget. "Unfortunately, the majority party continues to block the governor's reforms and refuses to pass a balanced budget," a spokesperson for the governor told the Chicago Tribune. (Rauner's reforms consist mostly of breaking up unions.)

In the time since then, the Cure Violence report found, "The [police] districts where the CeaseFire programs were cut are the districts where violence increased the most, accounting for 94% of the total citywide increase in shootings."

The cut in CeaseFire funding is likely not the only cause of Chicago's uptick in violence and crime—Chicago magazine's Whet Moser identified two other likely candidates: population loss and the splintering of gang leadership across the city—but it seems it's an easy argument to make that a small amount of state funding for CeaseFire would almost immediately save dozens, if not hundreds, of lives. The $4.7 million CeaseFire was supposed to receive last year represents just .0000007% of Illinois' annual GDP.

Sam Stecklow is the Weekend Editor for Fusion.