New Allentown Program Looks at Violence like a Disease That Can Be Treated

The Morning Call

By Manuel Gamiz Jr.

In the coming months, an Allentown community group will be working with the city on a new strategy to reduce violence, one that mimics how doctors try to prevent a disease from worsening.

As part of the strategy, crisis workers will go to the hospital bedsides of shooting victims to talk them out of retaliation, and “interrupters” will head to neighborhoods that appear ready to explode in violence.

Created by an epidemiologist two decades ago, the Cure Violence method — used by about 25 cities, including New York City and Chicago — confronts violence like a preventable epidemic and uses public health strategies to find and treat those most at-risk.

“Every act of violence is precipitated by another act of violence,” said Hasshan Batts, the director of operations for Promise Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley, which recently won a $150,000 state grant to start the program. “So if someone is a survivor of a violent act, we would like to talk to them. We want to have crisis workers available 24-7.”

Batts said he was attracted to Cure Violence because it relies on crime data to identify hot spots of violence and uses trusted community members to lead the program. And, he said, research shows the strategy works wherever it has been used.

Over the past eight months, Batts said Promise Neighborhoods has formed an advisory committee with church and community groups, and with members of the police, probation and district attorney’s office to discuss the program. A staff will be hired soon, he said.

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