Faces of Public Health: Tio Hardiman

Nov 2, 2011, 3:00 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

Tio2 Tio Hardiman, Director of CeaseFire Illinois

>>EDITOR'S NOTE: On 9/13/2012 CeaseFire changed its name to Cure Violence.

CeaseFire is a unique, interdisciplinary, public health approach to preventing violence that is based at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. The project, which was presented at a session at APHA today and is active in cities and states across the country, is based on the idea that violence is a learned behavior that can be unlearned. Violence is viewed and treated like a disease that spreads from person to person, and CeaseFire employs prevention techniques focused on stopping gun shootings and killings that are modeled on effective methods of preventing infectious diseases from spreading.

Tio Hardiman, the director for CeaseFire Illinois, has been with the program since 1999. In that time he has helped oversee expansion of the program from five Chicago-based community sites to 26 sites throughout Illinois and from 20 to 80 outreach workers. Hardiman also piloted a successful program innovation in 2004: the introduction of Violence Interrupters – highly specialized violence intervention experts who mediate conflict by using their reputations and connections in the community to give them access to leaders and influential decision-makers in street organizations. Many interrupters have belonged to gangs or spent time behind bars in the past, giving them unique street credibility when it comes to convincing people to walk away from committing violent acts. The year the program began, homicides declined in Chicago by 25 percent, to a total of 448 homicides, the fewest number of homicides in the city since 1965.

Before joining CeaseFire, Hardiman organized more than 100 block clubs to strategize community plans for public safety on behalf of the Chicago Alliance for Neighborhood Safety. NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Tio Hardiman about his work.

NewPublicHealth: So, what is CeaseFire all about?

Tio Hardiman: CeaseFire is a public health model. We implement the model in communities to help change mindsets and behaviors associated with violence. Dr. Gary Slutkin started the Chicago project in 1995. It’s all about changing behaviors. For example, with a seat belt campaign a lot of public education information was disseminated throughout the United States, and a lot more people are wearing seatbelts now. Our goal here at CeaseFire is to have a day come where someone pulls out a gun and people will say, “Look, we don’t do that anymore.”

We have five components to the CeaseFire model. One is community mobilization where we mobilize the community to help change the norm because in some cities throughout America, violence has become the norm. So we try to have everybody, community residents, faith based leaders, police personnel and the CeaseFire staff go out and respond to shootings when they take place in these communities within 72 hours in order for us to get the message out that the shootings are not the norm, shooting is abnormal, let’s change our behaviors. And as part of the community mobilization, we organize marches and rallies against violence. Component number two is made up of the outreach workers and the violence interrupters. They are “credible messengers” because they come from the communities in which we serve – in which we work. They understand the young guys out there and they can join the young guy’s world and bring them into their world because they’ve turned their lives around.

The third component is faith-based leader collaboration. We work with pastors and we organize peace summits at churches here in Chicago. We’ve organized 16 peace summits this year already where we bring anywhere from 75 to 1,000 young men and women to these peace summits and we call them behavioral change summits where we provide them with information and education on how we can think differently about violence.

Component number four is a strong public education campaign. We distribute materials in a community that communicate: don’t shoot, stop the violence. Sooner or later people start thinking about that because they’ll see this information everywhere. We’ve distributed over a million public education materials throughout the year in real high crime areas. CeaseFire is a data-driven initiative.

Out last component is partnering with law enforcement. They provide us with shooting and homicide data. They come out and secure our march routes for us, and we work together. Because everybody has to play a role in reducing violence.

NPH: Who makes up the staff that engages in the community?

Tio Hardiman: The outreach workers and violence interrupters come from the communities in which we work. Who else can you get to go out here and talk to these guys about stopping the shooting or changing their behaviors other than a person that changed their behavior?

The average worker carries a caseload of 15 high-risk participants from the age ranges of 16 to 25 years old because based on the data, most of the violence is committed by young men in that age range. The violence interrupters help to diffuse and de-escalate conflicts right on location and prevent people from shooting one another. But they also come back and they prevent retaliation as well.

NPH: How many encounters have you yourself gone to?

Tio Hardiman: I would say about 60 since I’ve been here.

NPH: Of those, what were common features that would be helpful to communities that don’t have a CeaseFire program yet?

Tio Hardiman: Interpersonal violence is the commonality. Often people think a lot of the violence is gang-related. But a good majority of the 60 conflicts that I mediated involved a misunderstanding of small amounts of money, someone looking at somebody’s girlfriend the wrong way. They shot first and asked questions later.

There was one conflict where a guy, 38, had this 18 year old kid on security for him because he was a known clique leader – I don’t call them gang leaders because you have these cliques out here. He was a clique leader, and the 18 year old left his security post because his mother called him because she was sick, and when he came back the guy wanted to take his life. I stood up for the younger guy and was threatened by the older one, had ten other guys around him. He said “I will put you to sleep, man, if you keep getting in my business. This guy belongs to me.”

To make a long story short, I saved the 18 year old kid’s life and did a second mediation with the guy who threatened me. I’m still here today but this is the way people think out there. So this work is serious. It’s not for the faint at heart and by me mediating that conflict and mediating the conflict with the guy that threatened me, we were able to get somewhere with that situation. So we’re cool now. He just had an issue with people getting in his personal business. But it wasn’t his personal business. The 18 year old’s life was at stake.

NPH: What’s the training for the work you do?

Tio Hardiman: We have a 40 hour-a-week, 5-day training. And we have booster sessions.

NPH: And what’s the follow up after mediation?

Tio Hardiman: Often we have what we callconstructive shadowing. We keep working with them to just keep them cool so they won’t be out here reoffending. Someone from CeaseFire shadows them just to make sure the guys are doing well and they’re staying on point by changing their minds about violence.

NPH: Imagine that you could walk into a tough neighborhood anywhere in the United States and you have the opportunity to prevent conflicts, not just interrupting but preventing it. What are the strategies that would be effective in preventing some of these conflicts from ever happening?

Tio Hardiman: Well, number one, you have to have your boots to the ground, you have to be able to detect conflicts before they arrive and before they escalate, and the way to do that is that we have a whole plan, a strategic plan, where we have guys working in the communities. The outreach workers and violence interrupters work nontraditional hours. They work the communities on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 10 PM and on Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to midnight. Their job is to know before violence occurs if we can. They’re out there knocking on doors, talking to the highest-risk youth every day. They have guys that call them and tell them that something’s about to happen right now. The guys are just in the know. They know what’s happening on their block. We work in CeaseFire zones, just like a beat officer, who is supposed to know everything that’s going on in the beat. We know everybody that’s a shooter in those areas and we have relationships with those guys. And that’s our job. If we slip on something we have a shooting review. What could we have done better to stop this one here on the front end? So, nothing gets past us too often.

The CeaseFire model gets results, but it’s not all about CeaseFire. Law enforcement does the lion’s share of the work, but CeaseFire complements the work of law enforcement because we represent a parallel approach to law enforcement. We’re trying to professionalize the community organizing aspects of this work.

>>Read our recent Q&A with Dr. Gary Slutkin, Founder of CeaseFire.

>>Follow the rest of our coverage on violence prevention.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.