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Rochester (NY) Mayor Johnson Seeks CEASE-FIRE to Prevent Gang Violence

May 9, 2005


In 1998, Rochester (NY) Mayor William A. Johnson, Jr. instituted a policing initiative to prevent gang activity and reduce youth violence called Cease-fire. Cease-fire is an inter-agency and community effort, which focuses on homicides committed by gang members ages 15 — 30. The strategy is when a gang member commits a homicide, the entire gang receives special attention from law enforcement.

Cease-fire is a partnership with the Mayor's Office, Pathways to Peace, Rochester Police Department, Monroe County District Attorney's Office, Monroe County Probation, New York State Parole, United State Attorney, community leaders, defense attorney's and professors from Rochester Institute of Technology and Harvard University.

Cease-fire operates by gathering intelligence on gangs, their alliances, enemies, activities, location, membership and criminal records or police contacts of those members. If there is a homicide committed by anyone associated with any gang, law enforcement focuses suppression efforts on the people involved in the homicide as well as all members of the gang. The Cease-fire team meets bi-weekly to discuss law enforcement efforts, homicides and gang activity.

A "Call-In" is convened for all gang members on probation, parole, and federal probation. Call-Ins occur in response to gang'related homicides. The Call-In is convened in a Monroe County Court Room and overseen by the Supervising Monroe County Supreme Court Judge. The judge takes attendance, and any gang member not present is issued an arrest warrant on the spot.

A Rochester police lieutenant informs the attendees as to why they are at the Call-In. The attendees then listen to speakers representing the community and law enforcement. The focus gang is highlighted for their crime and the consequences that followed. The message is simple; if you kill someone, you and your friends will realize a similar fate as the highlighted gang. "This is not business as usual. There is zero tolerance for homicides in this community." The attendees are instructed to go back to their neighborhoods and share this information with their friends and associates.

The Call-In ends with the dismissal of all speakers. Then members of the Mayor's Pathways to Peace Initiative (Rochester's youth violence and gang outreach and intervention team) establish rapport with the attendees, validate the message they heard, and offer their services, to assist them with exploring and realizing alternatives to violence and crime.

The message of Cease-fire is targeted for gang members who want to avoid enforcement by leading a law-abiding life, and in doing so they will be supported. Pathways to Peace have assisted participants who have requested help with education, employment and other issues. Furthermore, many former gang members have been hired in private sector jobs and are currently working.

An extension of Cease-fire entitled Juvenile Cease-fire focuses on probationers under the age of 16. Since the enforcement actions for these youth are limited, those involved in violent acts will receive intensive probation supervision.

The Cease-fire program's effectiveness is measured by the decrease in gang related homicides; especially among African-American males between the ages of 16-30.

One of the major lessons learned is that it is important to make the initiative part of a long-term strategy and not a short-term tactic that will fade away because of initial success or the emergence of other problems. Maintaining your efforts even when it seems the objectives have been met is important because scaling back operations may result in re-emergence of the problems.

It is imperative to have a good working relationship between agencies. Alternative agendas, egos and territory have no place in Cease-fire. It must be understood by all partnering agencies that their role is permanent and their commitment must stand despite budgets reductions, administrative changes and other emerging issues. It is also important to maintain their focus and not try to address too many issues under the initiative.

For more information, contact Keenan L. Allen, Director, Pathways to Peace — Office of the Mayor, City Hall, 30 Church Street — Room 203-A, Rochester, New York 14614 Telephone: 585-428-6339, Fax: 585-428-7923 E-mail: Allenk@cityofrochester.gov; Lt. Jeffrey C. Clark, Special Investigations Section, 185 Exchange Blvd., Rochester, NY 14614, Telephone: (585) 428-8935 Fax: (585) 428-7022 E-mail:jc0061@cityofrochester.gov.