Anti-violence program Operation SNUG officially launched in the Bronx in the beginning of August.
The program — the name comes from guns spelled backwards — enlists “violence interrupters” and outreach workers to mediate conflict between gang members and other at-risk youth before it escalates into violence.
The violence interrupters, chosen by a panel of community activists, are formerly incarcerated men who have turned their lives around and act as the “credible messengers” that are the key to preventing violence through the program, said the program’s director of outreach, Pastor Jay Gooding.
The initiative is being operated out of Jacobi Hospital, where it has been renamed “Stand Up to Violence.” The funding for the program was secured by Senator Jeff Klein.
“Our violence interrupters can reach these kids in a way that no one else can,” said Klein. “This initiative is a hands-on, street smart approach that I believe will help keep crime down in our communities and eliminate senseless gun violence in our neighborhoods.”
The key players in the program are the two violence interrupters and three outreach workers who target specific zones in the 47th and 49th precincts, said Gooding. The mission of the violence interrupters is to diffuse immediate conflicts, such as preventing a retaliatory shooting, while the outreach workers will more broadly canvass the neighborhoods, interacting with and mentoring at-risk youth.
The program’s staff was chosen because they are from the area, are known individuals in the neighborhoods, and can relate to the at risk youth.
“These individuals will look to them as being role models,” said Gooding. “They’ve been there, done that.”
The president of the 49th Precinct Council, Joe Thompson, sat on the hiring panel and agrees the success of the program stems from the street credibility of the interrupters, who are able to communicate with those perpetuating violence in a way others can’t.
“The only way to reach out to these problem areas is to be on the ground and be able to talk to the people causing problems,” said Thompson. “You need credibility for that.”
He has high hopes for the program’s ability to reduce violence, which he said has been effective in other areas.
“I’m extremely optimistic,” said Thompson.
In just the first week of the initiative, Gooding said that a potentially violent situation was prevented by a violence interrupter.
“We’ve already had a couple success stories,” he said.