New Era Community Connection is using a city grant to launch a new phone application for residents to report dangerous situations and receive services as part of a broader strategy to reduce violence.
Detroit is investing $10 million in six grassroots community organizations to tackle violence in neighborhoods with high rates of gun violence over the last five years. New Era Community Connection received a $700,000 grant, paid for with federal pandemic relief funds, to demonstrate the effectiveness of non-government approaches to address shootings. Organizations that received grants through Detroit’s “ShotStoppers” initiative officially started the community violence intervention (CVI) work on Aug. 1.
“I’ve been in this battle along with my team for nine years and the hardest part of organizing is finding funds,” New Era founder Zeek Williams said at a Friday press conference. “We appreciate the city’s support and I think it’s going to put us in a good situation to be more effective.”
Mayor Mike Duggan is holding a community meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at Kadesh Baptist Church 20361 Plymouth Road, to further discuss how the initiative will interrupt violence in crime hot spots.
“Our police department is doing a good job but there are folks that the government and police can’t reach,” Duggan said Friday. “Either they don’t have a relationship (with us) or they distrust their government. New Era on their own said this is a way for us to connect with our community. This is exactly the kind of innovation we’re hoping for.”
Williams said the grants allow under-resourced organizations to pay staff and ramp up operations that have proven to disrupt violence and protect residents. The city will track success by measuring reductions in non-fatal shootings and homicides over the next two years. Groups have the opportunity to double their funding through performance-based grants.
Williams said the Blkem app will allow residents to report shootings, missing persons and seek help to de-escalate situations before they turn violent. New Era is hiring call center staff who will respond to reports and post alerts on a map so residents can steer clear of dangerous situations. The app is not meant to replace 911 calls.
The app is specifically for residents living within a 4-square-mile service area where New Era is focusing its CVI work – between Curtis Avenue, Schoolcraft Street, Wyoming Street and Hubbell Street.
Each of the selected groups have their own approach, yet common themes have emerged in conversations with BridgeDetroit. The organizations will train people with a history of street violence to defuse potentially lethal conflicts while also launching programs to improve neighborhood conditions and link affected residents to mental health services, employment and education opportunities.
East side residents learned of another effort led by the Denby Neighborhood Alliance and Camp Restore during a Wednesday barbeque at Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church. Phillip Sample is training “violence interrupters” to mentor youth and get them involved in neighborhood cleanup programs.
“What we are doing is nothing new,” Sample said. “We have the opportunity to bring it all together under one objective. We’ve been operating in our own separate spaces.”
George Preston, a retired Detroit police officer and president of the Mohican Regent Neighborhood Association, is organizing citizen radio patrol in the Denby neighborhood. Volunteers are paid a stipend per mile after undergoing background checks and registering with the city.
Preston said the radio patrollers are meant to be eyes and ears only, reporting problems to police and serving as a visible deterrent. Cars are marked with magnet decals and amber lights. Volunteers are told not to get out of the car and keep a log of their observations.
“I can see the impact,” Preston said. “We want (criminals) to see the community is out. If everyone is pulling together, we can impact crime in our community. I really believe that.”
Deputy Mayor Todd Bettison said the “ShotStoppers” program came out of a demand from community members to invest in community services while the City Council debated the merit of expanding ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection surveillance system offered through $8.5 million contracts with California-based SoundThinking.
Some organizations have been doing the work for years without funding from the city. They’ve been struggling to keep going using volunteers and nonprofit support, Bettison said.
“We’re really investing the dollars into the program so these individuals who are in this space have a chance to do more of the work that they’ve been doing for free,” Bettison said.