Operation Ceasefire Educates Law Enforcement, Kids About Gun Violence

Author: Jerry Higgins, Communications Officer

While juvenile crime in North Carolina continues to trend downward, an alarming new trend was identified last year: juveniles being charged with firearm crimes. According to Deputy Secretary for Juvenile Justice William Lassiter, there has been an almost 150 percent increase in youths facing firearm-related crimes. 

“We want to jump on this trend earlier before this becomes a severe crisis for our state,” Lassiter said. “We suspect this trend is being generated by two factors. The first of these is families are facing tough times because of the pandemic and many youths are looking for ways to support their families. Unfortunately, in some cases, youth are turning to criminal behavior, including stealing what they can easily sell, including firearms.

“Secondly, we are seeing an increase in first-time gun ownership among adults. Unfortunately, these adults are not employing effective gun storage and safety techniques, which is allowing these guns to easily end up in the hands of children.”  

To counter these trends, the Department reached out to its local partners to see what prevention and intervention strategies could be put in place. Thanks to a training program coordinated through the Fayetteville Police Department called Educating Kids about Gun Violence (EKG), law enforcement and the Juvenile Justice section are educating seventh and ninth graders on the dangers of illegal firearm use, as well as training law enforcement how to go into the schools and do what they can to not only educate but eliminate youth firearms crimes.

The goals of the program are to equip students with the knowledge necessary to make better decisions than picking up and using weapons, lower gun-related violence in neighborhoods, and reduce the likelihood that students who are in juvenile justice facilities will become involved in gun-related crimes after transitioning back to their communities. The program uses a video, photographs, case scenarios, personal stories and small group discussions to educate students about the medical and legal consequences of having a gun, as well as positive alternatives.

“Where are the opportunities for kids to learn to avoid situations where they have access to guns?” said Cindy Porterfield, director of Juvenile Community Programs. “While a law enforcement presence in schools may, to some, bring tension, this curriculum offers a wonderful opportunity for law enforcement officers to serve as facilitators or, better yet, teachers and mentors to young people. The curriculum allows for youth to consider ‘digging deep’ into the raw, emotional, relational, medical and legal consequences of gun violence. The manner in which it is presented promotes dialogue and learning.”

EKG was originally developed by the Marion (Indiana) County Prosecutor’s Office in 2014-15. Word of the program’s success there spread around the country and it arrived in Fayetteville under the direction of Police Chief Gina Hawkins and “Operation Ceasefire” Program Coordinator Lisa Jayne through a grant from the Governor’s Crime Commission. Jayne learned about the program at a national Project Safe Neighborhoods conference a couple of years ago and has trained other state law enforcement agencies, officials and even staff at the DPS Cumberland Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Fayetteville in 2019. 

Last October, the training was presented in partnership with the Juvenile Justice section to law enforcement and other officials in Forsyth and Guilford counties, using social distancing between two classrooms, as those areas are seeing increases in youth gun violence.

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