(NewsNation) — Washington, D.C., is rolling out newly trained recruits to help prevent violent crime.
They aren’t police, but “violence interrupters” trained by the D.C. Peace Academy, whose job is to mediate conflicts and prevent them from escalating to involve guns.
Launched in May 2022, the D.C. Peace Academy involves 13 weeks of training for those who want to be community violence intervention workers. On Thursday, 23 graduates completed this training, some of whom have a history with violence or crime themselves.
They know the neighborhoods firsthand and are familiar with the trauma that experts say drives cycles of violence.
“When my mom found out I was selling drugs she was heartbroken,” Antoine Gatlin, now a Peace Academy graduate, said. “I chose the streets. That was one of the biggest mistakes of my life.”
Through their training, according to the Peace Academy’s website, students are given cognitive behavioral therapy as well as negotiation and conflict resolution skills.
Peace for DC Executive Director Lashonia Thompson-El served nearly two decades in prison herself, but came out ready to keep others from following in her footsteps.
“I pushed really hard for the city to invest in a public health approach to gun violence intervention because I believe in it,” Thompson-El said.
According to DCist, the Peace Academy program is financed with private donations through the Peace for DC fund at the Greater Washington Community Foundation. The publication notes that many of the people leading the Peace Academy, and all of its students, work for community-based organizations contracted by the D.C. government to do violence intervention work.
This all comes at a time when people are concerned about crime — particularly homicides — in D.C. and other cities.
On Wednesday, police said 12 people were shot in D.C. in one day, including a shooting where five people were hit and two were killed.
In nearby Baltimore, seven people were shot on a street corner.
From 2020-2021 homicides were up not only in D.C., but in New York and Los Angeles as well.
Available data is mixed on whether programs like the Peace Academy work.
A University of California Berkley study says a similar program in Stockton, California slashed gun homicides by 20%, while also saving taxpayer money on police investigations, emergency services and court time.
Washington, D.C. officials say the city neighborhoods with the program saw drops in the same crimes in 2020 and 2021.
However, John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York says research on violence interrupters is incomplete, and difficult to do.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, however, says prevention approaches are worthy investments.
“What I know is that they are engaging people who are known to use guns in other activities,” she said.