In 2012, Pastor B.T. Rice of New Horizon Christian Church decided he was tired of preaching at funerals. Violence was escalating in the St. Louis community, and the number of young people dying due to violent crime was increasing in parts of St. Louis city and county. Violent behavior had become an expectation, and appeared to be accepted. Two areas within St. Louis, Jennings in St. Louis County and District 6 in the City of St. Louis were considered “hot spots” in the community because of the number of violent crimes committed including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
After a year of meetings organized by Pastor Rice, with various members of the community, the group decided to formalize and file as a 501c3. In May 2013, the St. Louis Initiative to Reduce Violence (SIRV) was officially launched via a news conference as a pilot program in two areas of St. Louis–Jennings in St. Louis County and District 6 in the City of St. Louis. The objective of SIRV is to encourage young people, their families and members of the community to reduce violence in their neighborhoods. The vision of SIRV is to increase community safety, engage youth in new ways to deal with conflict and involve the community in reducing violence.
The Vandiver Group (TVG) met with the group from its inception and helped the board and advisory board launch SIRV in 2013. A website was created to publicize the vision which included links to social media on Facebook and Twitter. TVG designed and developed an informational flyer distributed to the community and planned and executed a press conference and media interviews to announce SIRV’s mission. Speakers from law enforcement in both the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County, representatives from the faith-based community, non-profit organizations, university professors and others discussed SIRV’s approach to solving violent crime.
Op-eds by Reverend B. T. Rice about SIRV and the needs in these communities appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the St. Louis American. Coverage was widespread by print, radio and TV media. As a result of the media coverage, donations are up, website traffic is up, and inquiries and requests to help SIRV through volunteer efforts have increased. SIRV also fostered better cooperation between the state authorities and city and county officials. The Missouri Board of Probation and Parole assisted city and county police officers with access to their computer database to share information on known criminals with the goal of hastening their removal from the streets. This new access allows them to immediately determine if individuals are violating the terms of their probation or parole, which is a new development for officers patrolling the streets. Additionally, more officers are on the streets in Jennings to assist with hotspot patrols in that city. As a result, they made five felony arrests, 29 misdemeanor arrests, issued nine summonses for marijuana, one DWI and seized two firearms within a week of the deployment of extra officers. Currently, SIRV is working with their various task force groups to develop specific programs. These include looking at how to best involve the faith-based community, how to handle fundraising and how to address needs of behavioral and mental health. SIRV hopes to work to reduce the culture of violence in the two pilot regions before expanding the program to other areas and sharing the results of the program.