Syracuse (WSYR-TV) - Less than two months into the new year, three people have been shot and killed in the city of Syracuse, including an 18-year-old victim. Many more have been sent to the hospital with gunshot wounds.
The city is now saying that enough is enough and city leaders are offering a "Syracuse Truce."
It's a new program launched on Wednesday with an assembly of police, prosecutors, social services, victims’ relatives, and counselors at the Syracuse Federal Building. They met with young men linked to gun violence in an effort to curb the trend toward violence.
Syracuse was one of nine cities in the nation that received Federal funding for such a program to reduce gun violence. The grant provides $300,000 for Syracuse Truce.
According to Syracuse Police, the approach holds the group accountable for the individual’s act of gun violence.
“This alters the criminal group dynamics in socially beneficial ways. No individual’s rights are violated. But the offenses of group members receive high priority. This is a matter of strategically focusing resources where they can have the greatest benefit. Group members are also invited to take advantage of services that can help them change their lives for the better,” according to a press release sent by Syracuse Police.
19 young men filed into to the court house Wednesday. They weren’t there for a trial, but to hear an ultimatum: put down your guns or else.
“Things have changed in Syracuse, we are prepared. If someone commits a murder, with federal resources we'll go after not just the individual but the whole group,” said John Duncan of the US Attorney's Office.
The authorities will take a three-pronged approach to enforcement:
Enhanced enforcement: Street saturation patrols, warrant details, code enforcement and probation/parole home visits of offenders in the gang's area will be conducted on the South and West sides of the city.
Street Outreach: The city-funded trauma response team will communicate with the most affected by gun violence and help mobilize the affected communities.
Call-in meetings: High-risk offenders (those who are on probation or parole) will be mandated and/or invited to attend meetings to hear about the consequences of continued criminal activity which they can relay back to fellow gang members. Multiple agencies will help provide assistance to those wishing to leave a violent lifestyle.
Many of the young men are on parole or probation and they received a letter to attend what police and city leaders are calling a last-chance call-in.
Ex-Brighton Brigade member Quenten Wright is hopeful that the program will work.
“I have two 10-year-old sons and God forbid that in five years I will lose one of them to gun violence,” Wright said.
City leaders are offering such young men a chance to find jobs, shed addictions, or receive counseling – all they have to do is put down the gun and pick up the phone.
Pastor Mark Harris’ son was killed by gun violence 12 years ago.
“It's ripping the community apart, in such a way it's hard for people from the outside to see, looking in, but the fabric of the community is being torn apart,” Harris said.
If they fail to take advantage of the help being offered, police promise that there will be severe consequences. They say the weight of law enforcement and the courts will swing down hard on the entire group.
A similar program was successful in Cincinnati, where the city saw a 42 percent drop in group-involved homicide and a 20 percent drop in shootings over the course of 42 months.
In Cincinnati, those young men who were connected to violence were offered a way up and out, but they were also offered the bars of a jail cell if they didn’t change course.
“We focus on the people committing the violence in our neighborhoods,” said Cincinnati Police Captain Dan Gerard. “It's much like excising a tumor. We cut the bad out and then we leave the good around and in tact to regenerate, and fill in the gap where that bad actually was.”
Boston and Lowell, Mass., had similar rates of success. Boston reduced youth homicides by 63 percent, while saw a 40 percent drop in homicides and a 43 percent reduction in shootings.
Dolce Collette-Lloyd says the plan is desperately needed in Syracuse. She still grieves a son who was gunned down in 2002.
"It's a pain that doesn't go away. That you have to continue praying each and every day, so you can make it another day. I want the killings to stop. I want them to stop killing one another, because that's not the way to live,” she said.
In order for the program to work, targeted offenders must be willing to change and Syracuse Truce Project Coordinator Sheria Dixon says she will be there every step of the way.
“Before they may have tried to reach out, to want to get help, and they've been lost. We've put together ways for them not to get lost,” she said.
Dixon hopes they’ve finally found a way to reduce gun crime in the city and make the streets safer for everyone.