Kansas City, Mo. An argument earlier in the day between teens from rival neighborhoods had Jason Broom worried as he stood in a pothole-riddled parking lot pondering his next move.
Broom was released from prison last year after serving time in two killings and is now a conflict mediator on Kansas City’s gang-infested east side.
The stocky, 270-pound Broom easily blends into the neighborhood scenery as part of Aim4Peace, a program that sends reformed criminals into some of the city’s tensest neighborhoods to calm disputes before they erupt. Police credit the program with reducing violence on the east side, where most of the city’s 126 homicides occurred last year.
Leaders in the nation’s most violent cities have talked for years about trying to get ahead of their crime problems, but efforts in Kansas City and Chicago take a different approach by sending former convicts into neighborhoods to more quickly identify, and defuse, trouble spots.
“I’ve done everything they’re thinking about doing,” Broom said.
Broom and the other half-dozen or so Aim4Peace street intervention workers, also known as “violence interrupters,” say they resolved 22 conflicts last year in Kansas City and at least 14 this year. And the east side — where poverty, gangs and drugs have conspired against residents for years — no longer leads the city in killings, according to crime data.
“The work they’re doing in that area is having an impact,” said Maj. Anthony Ell, commander of the Kansas City Police Department’s violent crimes division.
Ell said Aim4Peace is unlike any other prevention program he has seen in his 24 years with the department, because its members “go directly to the neighborhoods” to work with young people who run a high risk of committing violence or becoming victims. The group also helps find mentors for at-risk youths and links residents to community services.
“These guys out here know my history. They know what I’ve done,” said Broom, who could go unnoticed as an outsider in his black Aim4Peace shirt, jeans and work boots. “Who’s more qualified to say, ‘That ain’t the road you want to take’?”