Troubleshooter Exclusive: Walking with the Interrupters

After WAVE 3 News’ last story, several city officials wanted us to look deeper into the Cure Violence program.
Updated: May. 14, 2019 at 11:40 PM EDT
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BROOKLYN, N.Y. (WAVE) - They are the so-called Violence Interrupters.

They are part of a program that's seen major success in some cities, but came under fire in Louisville after an exclusive WAVE 3 News Troubleshooter investigation.

After WAVE 3 News’ last story, several city officials wanted us to look deeper into the Cure Violence program, especially in a place where it’s considered to be working.

During our investigation, which spanned several months, we learned the Louisville Metro Police Department had no role in the hiring of Interrupters, even though having a member of law enforcement on a hiring panel was a contractual requirement. More on that later in this article.

We also learned Louisville was not actually a current Cure Violence site. It was being operated, rather, under the city’s Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods. The city told us Tuesday they have recently entered a new contract with Cure Violence.

But that’s not all we found.

From background checking, to police involvement, reporting requirements, hiring practices and even arrests, our investigation found several differences between the Cure Violence Program we visited in Brooklyn, N.Y., and how the program is being run in Louisville.

Brooklyn is one of Cure Violence’s sites that brings them pride and joy.

“This was one of the areas that was prone to gun violence,” Brooklyn Cure Violence Supervisor Jeremy Arce told us as we walked the neighborhood in which his group operates.

“To us, responding to violence is normal,” he said.

On the agenda for the day was a walk to the senior housing apartment complex in East New York, where an woman was murdered.

“It impacted me when I heard it,” Arce said. “Eighty-three-years old, getting beaten to death. I mean, that’s crazy to me.”

While NYPD works to find Jacolia James’s killer, we watched the Interrupters get to work, too.

“We’re here to support the community and let them know that preying on our seniors is not acceptable,” Arce explained. “It’s not something that we’re going to tolerate.”

The team wore uniforms and badges. At the complex, we saw them talk to one person after another. They handed out fliers and hugs. We even watched them help one family move.

Their goal is to create relationships with the people who live in their designated target neighborhoods. They let people know there’s someone they can turn to for resources like jobs, training, or for help avoiding the violence associated with retaliation.

The Interrupters seemed to know the people who live around their sites, and the residents seemed to know them, too. The fact that they are Interrupters is also known through their identifiable clothing, constant presence and numerous events they host every month, along with another organization, Man Up.

The Interrupters are part of Cure Violence, a program headquartered in Chicago.

In Brooklyn, they’ve partnered with an established non-profit called Man Up and have been on these streets for 10 years. Man Up provides a number of resources the Interrupters can tap into.

As part of Cure Violence, director Andre Mitchell said the Interrupters go through constant specific training in violence interruption and reduction and conflict mediation. The training is very specific, Mitchell said, and is tailored and managed by Cure Violence itself.

Mitchell said the Interrupters get pop quizzes, and their work is strictly monitored through a series of reports.

“Our outreach workers have to record every personal contact they make, electronic contact; we even track Facebook, Facetime,” Arce said. Blank spots in their reporting of daily activity is not tolerated, and is immediately addressed, he said.

WAVE 3 News’ cameras were there for the Interrupters’ meeting at the start of their regular shift. They, along with Man Up employees, shared the status of their work, specific to each of their roles.

Arce talked about how a teen he’s working with was doing.

“I’m worried about the little brother that I spoke to you about last week,” he told the team.

The teen’s parents had been arrested during a raid of their home. The teen was the oldest brother and had been traumatized by the raid. Arce was concerned the trauma might lead him down a wrong path. They talked about plans to visit the teen at school.

Every day can be different for the Interrupters.

In a group, they respond to shootings and homicides, not necessarily to help solve the case, but to prevent the next one.

“We don’t want the police department or other people who are outsiders (to) misunderstand who these young men and women are, who are really brave and courageous first responders, trained to do the work that they do,” said Mitchell, who also founded Man Up. “They’re professionals.”

In Brooklyn, the Interrupters have even attended NYPD roll calls, meeting the officers who work in their same area. That’s something that does not happen in Louisville.

“They even know about us more today than they ever did because we’ve been very consistent and very persistent,” Mitchell said.

Snitching is almost a sin on the street, so drawing the lines between the roles of Interrupters and police is paramount. Interrupters try to get to people before they commit a crime, so there’s nothing to snitch about.

“Once you’re in a system, you’re in the system, you know, they worry about that later on,” Violence Interrupter David Dunlop said. “We trying to get to you before you end up behind them walls, you know, or end up dead.”

According to the Cure Violence model, intervening in the most violent parts of town requires one thing -- credibility.

Many of the Interrupters have criminal backgrounds themselves.

“Possession of illegal firearms, I had assault charges,” Arce said. "My rap sheet is a little bit different, but I was lucky enough that I didn’t have to do no major time.

“I got the wrong end of the stick and I was lost,” Arce said, adding that he credits another Interrupter for pulling him off the wrong path.

Dunlop also said the program would have changed his life.

“Like I said when I was younger, if I had this program for me, I probably wouldn’t have been in a couple of the positions that I’ve been in,” he said. “I probably would have followed my dreams right? Been a basketball player.”

Full-time Brooklyn Interrupters get paid $32,000 a year. With that come drug testing and extensive background checks.

“Family background checks, we do prison background checks, so we find out a history of the individual almost dating back to when they were children,” Mitchell said.

Those with a history of domestic violence and rape are automatically rejected. Police even have veto power over a new hire. Interrupters are checked monthly for any new run-ins. On top of that, they said, the community will let them know.

“They know that positive entity, what we’re trying to do, and they’ll say, ‘Listen, that person ain’t too good. You may want to check up on this, that and the third,’” Arce said. “Grandma up there in the window is always watching. You can’t lie to her.”

Each Cure Violence site in New York works with a $500,000 yearly budget base.

To Mitchell, taxpayers are getting a deal if the Interrupters are preventing people from ending up in prison. But there’s also one other benefit, worth a lot more.

“When a person is able to make contact with another young person involved in that life and convince them to not go out there and anything reckless, to me, there’s no cost in saving somebody’s life,” Mitchell said.

The program is touted as a success with a reduction of violent crime in the two areas these Interrupters work in.

We found several differences between the Cure Violence program in Brooklyn and how it's run in Louisville.

We found several differences between the Cure Violence program in Brooklyn and how it's run in Louisville.

For example, in Brooklyn, we witnessed how people knew exactly who the Interrupters are. They show up to scenes and walk the streets wearing uniforms and badges. In Louisville, several community activists told us they don’t even know who the Interrupters are.

The Interrupters’ relationships with officers is also different. In Brooklyn, they sometimes attend NYPD roll calls. And they told us the officers working in the same area know exactly who the Interrupters are.

LMPD meanwhile, said Interrupters haven’t attended roll calls and don’t always interact directly with officers.

Thirdly, law enforcement is supposed to be part of a hiring panel and even have veto power over a new hire. Their participation is a requirement spelled out in the contracts WAVE 3 News obtained between the two vendors Louisville works with -- the YMCA and No More Red Dots.

A spokeswoman for the Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods (OSHN) confirmed that hasn’t been happening.

She blamed a “scheduling conflict” and promised that LMPD will be more involved in future hiring.

The Brooklyn Interrupters also go through monthly arrest checks.

Brooklyn’s Cure Violence Director, Andre Mitchell, told us working with people who have criminal backgrounds and having them in contact with those at risk requires strict oversight of the program.

The Cure Violence model, he said, is like an intricate, fine-tuned recipe that doesn’t allow for venturing to avoid problems and ensure success.

"They require that you stay within a certain context of the model," he said. "You can't go so far out of the model because then we cannot guarantee the results."

Mitchell says one the biggest components they ensure is doing extensive background checks on their Interrupters, even going back to when they were teens.

According to Cure Violence, those with pasts involving domestic violence or sexual assault are immediately disqualified.

We also asked OSHN about Louisville’s use of the Cure Violence name and logo, despite not having a contract with them at the time. They told us that Cure Violence trained the Interrupters with No More Red Dots under a previous contract. They said members of Cure Violence are currently in town as of Tuesday to train the Interrupters contracted through the YMCA and to assess the work by No More Red Dots, under a new contract.

Our in-depth investigation doesn't end here.

We’ll have more information about Interrupters and the Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods this week.

Copyright 2019 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.