This is the fourth of the Building Peace series in Crain's Chicago Business. It was written by Vaughn Bryan, the director of the umbrella group Communities Partnering 4 Peace and Chris Patterson, the program manager of organizing and outreach for the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago.
Social workers train for their jobs. So do teachers, ministers, medics and police officers. That training—and the respect that comes with it—is what we want for the men and women who counter violence every day through street outreach.
What is street outreach? Also known as violence interruption, it is high-stakes mediation in some of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods to diffuse dangerous situations, or head off retaliation when violence occurs. The work was highlighted in the 2011 documentary "The Interrupters."Many who do it belonged to gangs earlier in their lives. They are consummate mediators who build trusting relationships with perpetrators and victims, as well as their families, friends and broader community. Their work is indispensable for keeping peace in the city.
Yet police and outreach workers sometimeshave clashedbecause of fundamental misunderstandings about the role—and who fills it. Outreach workers can't function unless all parties see them as honest brokers, not police informants. Their impact and even their safety depends on it. But that need for distance means individual officers sometimes see outreach workers as the criminal they once were, not the skilled worker they are. Gang member in hiding, some think, just drawing a paycheck.
That friction hampers the potential effectiveness of street outreach and prevents it from scaling up. To help shift that dynamic, in January an umbrella group led by Metropolitan Family Services launched the Metropolitan Peace Academy: a 144-hour training program designed to professionalize the field of street outreach.Street Outreach, Support Services and Jobs strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.