DALLAS - People who know what a life of crime is like are being put to work on the streets.
Violence interrupters in Dallas are using their experience to stop the prison cycle and warn young people about where the path they are on might lead.
For the past six years, an organization called Youth Advocate Programs has been trying to stop violence in Dallas. On Tuesday, it offered a training workshop for people who want to get involved in their communities.
Violent crime in the city of Dallas is on track to surpass last year's record-breaking numbers. But special training could help police turn that trend around — at least in part.
Mayor Eric Johnson pushed for the city to adopt a violence interruption program recommended by the mayor's task force on safe communities in its 2020 report. City Council voted unanimously to contract with Youth Advocate Programs who provide the training.
"Dallas Cred is a violence interrupters group that is an extension of the many resources that Youth Advocate Programs offer and have been offering in the city of Dallas," explained Mar Butler, the program’s director.
A violence interrupter is someone who has a lot of confidence and grit. Some people may confuse them with being crime stoppers, but Butler said they are not.
"What we are is we are people who offer alternatives to violent behavior because not everyone responds to violence the same way. So the model that we have been trained under is to go in and offer resources, help, care, concern, whatever is needed so that a person can think differently about having different options," he said.
The violence interrupters are not stepping in the middle of a gang fight. They are trying to intervene long before it gets to that point.
"Our job is specifically to go in and be proactive before the fact, before the act is concerned. And so that’s what we’ve been here," Butler said.
Johnson has supported groups like Dallas Cred to get people of the community who look like them and talk like them to build strength-based relationships. They work cooperatively with the Dallas Police Department but also provide assistance for things like housing, food insecurity, mental health care and education.
"Through Chief Eddie Garcia, they have been very cooperative in knowing everyone who is in these communities does not go around looking for someone to shoot or looking for crime," Butles said. "Not everyone responds to pain the same way. And so some people actually need options but they don’t know exactly where to get them. Our job is to go into those neighborhoods and not only tell them how to get the help but we help them to find it and deliver it to them as well."
Butler said lack of education can lead to poverty and an overwhelming amount of poverty leads to crime.
"So if we can alleviate some of these disparities, we will definitely see a change in the communities that need it the most," he said.
Dallas Police Association Vice President Frederick Frazier says their special skill set can make a difference and help build trust with the community.
"The communication between the neighborhood and the police department is an absolute must," he said. "Folks who can relate to what's going on trying to get to the youth, trying to get to the problem because most of these crimes they folks know each other."
The violent interruption programs have been growing in popularity over the past six years. Baltimore and D.C. have seen big improvements in their violent crime trends. Instructors from those cities were in town training the Dallas team.
For more information about the training workshop or just to get involved, visit yapinc.org.