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As Temperatures Rise, So Does Crime. But Milwaukee Has a Plan: Violence Interrupters

Angelina Mosher Salazar
Reggie Moore, the director of the Office of Violence Prevention at Milwaukee Department of Health, addresses a crowd of community stakeholders on the office's progress.

As summer approaches, temperatures rise and so does crime. It's widely known that summer months are often witness to an uptick in crime. This is not news to Milwaukee's Office of Violence Prevention. In fact, they have been busy, rolling out a number of violence prevention initiatives. One particular initiative is violence interrupters.

"They were once considered to be part of the problem but now they are part of the solution," says Derrick Rogers, the director and program manager for 414LIFE.

He's talking about the new violence interrupters, an initiative that rolled out in November 2018. So, who are violence interrupters and what exactly do they do?

"They are individuals who are willing to engage situations that [are] considered to be potentially violent — especially gun violent ... then coming in and mediating conflicts before they occur," says Rogers.

But what does that actually look like on the ground? Ray Mendoza, a man who was once incarcerated and is now himself a violence interrupter, sheds light on the issue.

Mendoza says he recently called a young man that he's been checking up on lately. When Mendoza called, the young man was upset. Mendoza went to meet the man and learned there was a conflict that was escalating between this young man and another man who owed him money. 

"I just got into a high speed chase with him ... I really want to shoot him," Mendoza says, recounting what the young man told him. Mendoza says after listening to the young man he then offered to act as an intermediary and settle the debt. But Mendoza had one condition: "Promise me if you see this guy, you won't do nothing," Mendoza recalls telling the young man. 

Mendoza says that he met with the man the debt was owed to see what he could pay back. While it wasn’t the full amount owed, it was something. Mendoza brought the amount back, telling the man the score is settled, "The beef is going to be dead. Here's your money. It's dead."

Mendoza says this is what being a violence interrupter is all about.

"When you got the respect of the people of the streets and you get them to understand that whatever actions they want to play are not worth it, and you can come up with a solution that makes everybody happy ... that's what we do," says Mendoza. 

According to the office of Violence Prevention, since violence interrupters started they have had 26 incidents in which they claim they have deescalated and prevented violence. Rogers is confident that the interrupters will continue to prevent violent acts. He says that their presence will increase in the community.

"As the warmer weather approaches, it's going to have a real look. First of all, our interrupters are going to be in the streets a lot," he says. Rogers says they will be engaging individuals strategically in areas that are more vulnerable to violence. Some of the neighborhoods they will be working in include North Division, Sherman Park, Historic Mitchell and Old North Milwaukee, where the violence interrupters are currently based.

Angelina Mosher Salazar joined WUWM in 2018 as the Eric Von Broadcast Fellow. She was then a reporter with the station until 2021.
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