CeaseFire programme for Bermuda would cost at least $500,000
A price tag of at least $500,000 has been put on setting up a CeaseFire programme to stop the violence plaguing Bermuda.
Those behind the global violence prevention programme have today welcomed the Island’s intention to use the radical approach to break up rival gangs.
But they say reformed gang members will only see successes in treating violence like the spread of an infectious disease if enough funding is made available.
Setting up a new programme usually costs about $250,000 per year and the minimum commitment of two years means at least $500,000 would need to be handed over.
Most of this cash would be used for training former gang members who use their “inside knowledge” to defuse violent situations before they happen.
It is thought that five to ten full and part-time ‘interrupters’ would be put to work on Bermuda’s streets once they’d completed about 40 hours of training.
The cost of the CeaseFire scheme, which is being pursued by National Security Minister Wayne Perinchief and Shadow National Security Minister Michael Dunkley, comes as Government struggles to balance its books.
It is expected to be a cross-Ministry initiative, but earlier this year the police budget was cut by $7.5 million, receiving 11 percent less funding than last year.
Brent Decker, CeaseFire’s international coordinator, said: “The success of CeaseFire does depend on having the funding available.
“We understand it’s not always easy but this is a long-term programme that relies on developing relationships with people over time.
“You can’t leave people high and dry after six months. To see an effect there must be a commitment of two or preferably three years.
“The programme has to take root and start to change people’s thinking about violence. It takes time to change behaviours and not being able to do this over an extended period of time would be problematic.”
The Royal Gazette reported last week that Mr Perinchief was “inspired and encouraged” to act by former Chicago gang member Ricardo (Cobe) Williams, who visited Bermuda to promote ‘The Interrupters’ as part of the weekend’s Bermuda Docs film festival.
Meanwhile, Mr Dunkley has long advocated the CeaseFire approach, which has made a dramatic impact on violence in the world’s most troubled cities.
The programme had such a significant impact in Chicago, that it has since been rolled out to a whole host of US cities, including New York, Baltimore, Kansas, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Oakland. It is also being used in Trinidad and Tobago and South Africa, and is about to begin in London.
Mr Decker said the success of the scheme relied on gang members ‘interrupting’ the spread of the violence and changing people’s behaviour.
He said: “The key thing is to find the right people to keep their ears to the ground. They have to detect violent situations before they happen.
“It is their job to work in the heart of neighbourhoods where there are conflicts, they have to be able to intervene or interrupt.
“But to do this they have to have credibility. They have to have their foot in the door and be respected.”
Mr Decker said he did not think Bermuda’s small size would be a hindrance to finding gang members “who no longer wanted to be behind the violence”.
He said: “In our experience there are already individuals who are informally doing this.
“We will find them. They will be in the gangs but will be more interested in doing something positive.”
Mr Decker said it was “inspiring beyond words” to see new CeaseFire programmes getting off the ground.
He said they would be happy to work with Government and Bermuda Police Service, but usually worked with non-governmental organisations, as they are “perceived to be more neutral”.
Mr Decker, who has worked for CeaseFire for eight years, said: “It’s great that Bermuda has shown an interest. The word is definitely spreading.
“People are no longer accepting the problem of violence by thinking there’s nothing that can be done about it.
“Every place varies a bit so we adapt things depending on the situation, but the principle stays the same.”
The first step to adopting a CeaseFire programme would be for representatives from Bermuda to visit Chicago for a couple of days.
Mr Decker said this visit would give representatives “a first-hand sense of what the programme entails” through site visits and management meetings.
A team of about three or four people from CeaseFire’s international team “who know the programme inside out” would then visit Bermuda for up to three weeks.
They would visit “the hot spots” and set up meetings with community leaders and Government officials, as well as gang members themselves.
They would then present their initial findings by drawing up a ‘partnership proposal’ with a series of objectives.
Mr Decker said it was important to involve gang members from day one as “the information they provide shows us the way forward”.
There is currently no international waiting list so getting a scheme started in Bermuda would just be “a matter of scheduling”. Mr Decker said: “If somewhere is super-interested, we would certainly make the time.”
Local programme managers are appointed to oversee the day-to-day running of schemes and to liaise with the overseas team. And staff from the Chicago office, which is at the University of Illinois, usually make quarterly visits.
Mr Decker vowed that Bermuda would “start to see results in the first year” then gradually see a change in society with people refusing to accept violence as a way to resolve problems.