NewsNewsChannel 5 InvestigatesGideon's Army


No $1 million blank checks for Gideon's Army, panel decides

Group must apply for funds, meet strict standards
Posted: 5:44 PM, Dec 20, 2021
Updated: 2021-12-20 19:30:51-05
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Gideon’s Army will not automatically receive the $1 million that the group had pushed the Metro Council to include in this year’s budget for violence interruption, a Metro advisory panel has recommended.

Instead, the nonprofit group will be required to go through an extensive application process, along with any other groups interested in doing the same work, and meet strict standards being set by the mayor’s Community Safety Partnership Advisory Board.

Gideon’s Army has recently argued that the money for a pilot project in North Nashville was intended for them.

“There may have been that perception, but we studied that. We looked at whether or not that was the intent of the Council,” said board chair Sharon Roberson, CEO of YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee.

“We are trying to be the best stewards of the public funding. When the public sees how their money is spent, we want them to be satisfied because these are all public dollars.”

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Meeting of Community Safety Fund Advisory Board
Meeting of Community Safety Partnership Advisory Board

Some city leaders were aware of NewsChannel 5’s emerging investigation of Gideon’s Army at the time that the group’s proposal was moving through the Metro Council and pushed language that would give the city the ability to set standards for how that money is spent.

The final legislation called for a “Cure Violence” project, referring to the violence interruption concept utilized by Gideon’s Army and other groups around the country.

Members of Mayor John Cooper’s staff, including experienced violence interrupter Ron Johnson, have been studying best practices and advising the Community Safety Partnership Advisory Board as it makes recommendations on grant funding to the Council.

Finding No. 1: Violence interruption programs should be evaluated by an independent outside partner.

"Everyone our team spoke with recommended that Nashville should select an independent evaluator, ideally a local university, to assess the impact of our Cure Violence pilot," according to a memo from John Buntin, the mayor’s director of community safety. "They further underscored that this should be a collaborative relationship. Nonprofits selected to participate in the pilot and the evaluator should work out ways to measure the impact of the program together."

Our investigation discovered that Gideon’s Army has greatly exaggerated its success in reducing violence in North Nashville’s Cumberland View public housing development.

Finding No. 2: It is critical to provide ongoing training and professional development to street outreach workers and violence interrupters.

“Street outreach and violence interruption should be seen as emerging professions,” Buntin wrote.

“Both types of work are extremely demanding and potentially dangerous. Outreach workers in Los Angeles and Chicago typically receive 140 hours of training before beginning work.

“They also receive training and professional development on an ongoing basis.”

Finding No. 3: It is critical that all nonprofits working in the field of violence interruption embrace the standards developed by the profession.

Those standards, embraced by violence interrupters in LA and Chicago, include avoiding “negative conflict with law enforcement” – which, our investigation discovered, has sometimes been a problem for Gideon’s Army leaders.

“Nonprofits must be prepared to let go of employees who violate professional standards,” Buntin's memo added. “Cities should feel empowered to suspend or terminate contracts if professional standards are violated.”

Because it has taken several months to develop protocols, the Community Safety Partnership Advisory Board is recommending that the Metro Council add $750,000 to the $1 million already appropriated for violence interruption.

That money would allow the pilot program to be expanded to two years, including money for training and evaluators.

Watch discussion of city's approach below:

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NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Gideon's Army