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Youth Violence Prevention Initiative

Jamala Henderson

In 2008 five teenagers died violent deaths in the city of Seattle, due to gun violence. Last fall, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels proposed an initiative that aims to cut violent incidents among a small population of kids in half.


Everyone involved in the fight against youth violence is working hard for a positive outcome. But as KUOW's Jamala Henderson reports, there's a difference of opinion, on how to achieve the goal.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels says his Youth Violence Prevention proposal was inspired by tragedy. On January 3, of last year, a young man was shot to death at a party in Seattle. 10 days later, another boy died.

Nickels: "And there was some indication that there might be some link between them that perhaps one was a retaliation for another. The second young man was 14 years old. He was shot down on Rowe Street down on Martin Luther King Way, and left to die, on the street there. "

At that point, Nickels says, he began looking for some answers from people involved in working with youth. So he pulled together people who had been providing youth services in Seattle. But as the year unfolded, several more young men were shot and killed. And that led Nickels to propose Seattle's Youth Violence Prevention Initiative.

Nickels: "A 14 year old, ought to have another 70 years of life. And whatever choices that 14 year old has made, should not condemn them to an early ugly violent death. They should have the chance to grow up, make mistakes as we all do as young people, and then be able to, hopefully do very well, thrive in our community. "

The overall goal of the initiative is a 50% reduction in youth crime, and violence related school expulsions. In one year. And while that may sound ambitious, the targeted population is small, around 800 or so kids.

The city plan will fund a web of agencies to support programs focused on youth mentoring, job training, and anger regression therapy.

There's also a program placing police officers in middle schools. The city refers to them as "emphasis" officers.

Holly Miller is the interim director of Seattle's Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. She says the most important piece of the initiative, is a new approach the city will emphasize.

Miller: "It really has to be led by the community. And that's the reason the city engaged community based services in the central area, southwest and south east Seattle to do initial plans. "

And Miller says those initial plans made up the foundation of the entire initiative.

The Urban league oversees the Central district hub. And it's also tasked with overseeing community and street outreach for all three agencies.

Jamila Taylor works for the Urban League. She coordinates the community side of the city initiative.

Taylor: "What we'll do is we'll have our team members who go out into the community, work with different community organizations, the schools, the police department and identify young people who are in need of help. "

That can involve everything from basic food and housing needs, to referrals for alcohol and drug treatment programs.

Taylor also says executing this initiative with such heavy community involvement, is brand new territory.

Taylor: "The Urban League hasn't done this program before, but neither has the city. And there are very few cities in the country that have come at this problem, youth violence, in a way that involves multiple agencies that are directly coordinated by community based organizations. But we know we have talented people in place that will help us, and guide us through this process and make sure we engage the community. "

Despite that, there are other grassroots community based organizations who, are unhappy with the way the city has handled the process so far.

Alex Bautista coordinates El Centro's de la Raza's "The Hope for Youth" program.

Bautista: "We have intensive one on one case management for young people that are at risk of joining a gang. Or are involved in a gang and are looking for alternatives, ways that they can be involved positively in their community. "

The old elementary school in Seattle's Beacon Hill area houses a myriad of programs run by El Centro de la Raza. They range from improving English literacy to first time homebuyer classes.

El Centro's funding comes from a variety of sources, but they also get money from the city.

They were one of eight organizations, collectively called Seattle Team for Youth, that received money from a city Education Levy. The money supported a dropout prevention program via the agencies.

But now funding for Seattle Team for Youth is being redirected to support the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative.

Bautista: "And we lost several thousand dollars from that. I think the biggest critique, is El Centro and other organizations are already doing gang prevention, intervention work. And that is being removed, reallocated, redirected and ultimately they are going to be serving the same youth that we were serving. "

But The City's Holly Miller disagrees.

Miller: "It's a different model, and a different population. "

Miller says the Seattle team for youth program didn't work for what the city now wants to accomplish.

Miller: "After about three years, we looked at the results and they were pretty weak. "

Miller says the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative will target Kids who have already served time, or who've been arrested but not detained. Middle school students with truancy problems. And also kids involved in violent incidents or retaliatory behavior.

Miller: "And the Seattle Team for Youth young people were not that carefully defined. The case loads were different, the training was different. "

But as a result of the city's new program El Centro Batista says they'll lose at least one of their case managers. That employee hopes to apply for city funds from the violence prevention initiative, so she can continue to reach out and help at risk youth.

The Seattle city council is expected to vote on the plan at the end of April. The city expects to kick off the program in May.

Jamala Henderson, KUOW News.

© Copyright 2009, KUOW