Cape's Green Dot program working to change attitudes on violence

Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Lynn Ware, Safe Communities Program coordinator, speaks to students at Cape Girardeau's Alternative Education Center in a follow-up session of the Green Dot Program. (Fred Lynch)

When Cape Girardeau police chief Carl Kinnison heard a presentation last year on an anti-violence campaign initiated at the University of Kentucky, he thought introducing it locally would help combat a spree of shootings on the city's south side. No one with information about the crimes was talking to officers, Kinnison said, and the Green Dot program -- aimed at reducing violence and encouraging bystander intervention -- was a way to help change a growing "no snitching" attitude.

"We were having this violence within our community that we weren't really able to intervene successfully, because nobody was talking to us," Kinnison said. "You can change culture, but you've got to work at it."

Since implementing Green Dot last year, leaders within the police department have taken action to encourage the community to prevent violence, hoping to see a reduction in crime throughout the city. While he can't directly attribute it to the Green Dot initiative, Kinnison said shooting incidents throughout the city have decreased significantly.

Police first reached out to churches on the south side of Cape Girardeau.

"They were very receptive and jumped right on board in an effort to help us change that culture," Kinnison said. "It was pretty amazing; a lot of [ministers] talked about it on the pulpit."

More recently, Cpl. Ike Hammonds and Safe Communities Program coordinator Lynn Ware have been making visits to classrooms at the Cape Girardeau Alternative Education Center, where students are beginning to understand the importance of an education and distancing themselves from criminal behavior.

Hammonds typically begins the class discussion while Ware conducts a follow-up visit with the students to see what information they've retained. The message is centered on anti-violence, the courage it takes to achieve one's goals and keeping a positive attitude in pursuing an education.

"A lot of the kids that are attending the alternative school come from the very neighborhood I grew up in. That gets their attention right off the bat," Hammonds said. "My experiences, a lot of them, mimic what the kids are going through now."

Ware often addresses the students one-on-one and discusses with them why they're at the alternative school and how they could improve their lives.

Ware has even shared her own experience with violence, she said, which involved growing up in a home where her father abused her mother. She uses her own story as an opportunity to help students learn about what they can do to prevent it, such as making literature about the dangers of domestic violence available in the home.

"Lay a brochure here or there where a parent could glance over and see them. There are quiet ways of getting your parent's attention," Ware said. "I know what that is like to grow up in an environment like that, the challenges and the fear that you have."

The anti-violence initiative was also implemented on campus at Southeast, where program organizers initially used a poster campaign to start discussion on how to create a green dot, or make an impact in curbing violence on campus.

Due to changes in staffing, however, the program hasn't moved forward like leaders hoped it would a year ago, said Dr. Loretta Prater, dean of Southeast Health and Human Services. The college is finishing a search for a new coordinator of the grant program, which funds the initiative.

Called the VICTORY Program at Southeast, its strategy is to educate students and faculty on the realities of dating violence, sexual violence and stalking. The program also connects victims of violence with the resources needed to heal emotionally.

Southeast has also partnered with the police department and other organizations in the community, including the Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence.

Using some of the grant funds from the U.S. Department of Justice, in November 2008 a group of Southeast students traveled to Florida for a seminar, where they learned more about educating their peers about violence prevention.

"It's not just about being reactionary. ... It's being proactive. We're focused on maintaining a safe campus," Prater said.

As a way to put a green dot on the map, the campus is hosting numerous presentations on preventing sexual violence in April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. On April 13, presenters will host a two-hour session titled "Let's Talk About It" from 5 to 7 p.m. at Dempster Hall.

"We're hoping to get not only a lot of our students to come out but from the community as well," Prater said.

While the police department isn't able to track each green dot, or positive step toward ending violence, their efforts to embrace the community have made an impact, according to Kinnison.

Ware said a mother came up to her at a grocery store recently and thanked her for encouraging her daughter during a presentation at the alternative school. Her daughter decided to continue her education by taking classes at Southeast Missouri State University, the woman told Ware.

And detective Debi Oliver, who deals specifically with violence and violence against women, said she believes more people have called in with information since the department has began to promote change in the "no snitching" culture.

"Educating the public is what we had to do to get assistance from the community," Oliver said. "The more exposure, the more cooperation from the community we're going to get."

ehevern@semissourian.com

388-3635

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