Fighting Tulsa's gang problem with 'Streetworkers'

Monday, March 8th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Many believe gang violence is at a crisis level in Tulsa. Everyone wants it stopped, but few have had suggestions on how to do it, until now.

Tulsa has just began a new program called Streetworkers, designed to intervene with kids who are 12 to 14 years old who've had their first felony arrest. News on 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright takes a look.

Irvin Profit was a big time Tulsa drug dealer in the 80's, using gang members to ply his wares, until he went to prison. While there, he decided to change. He got two degrees and took drug education classes. Still, he never dreamed his office would one day be inside a north Tulsa police station. “My job is to go into different communities and do what police cannot, build relationships and I think I can do that because of my previous history and previous life."

Profit coordinates a new program called Streetworkers, which targets pre-teenagers as soon as their first felony arrest. He'll get them tutoring, drug counseling, family therapy, whatever they need to go down a different path. "You've got kids with guns in their backpacks. The problems 5-10 years ago have now changed. These kids have the mindset nothing is wrong unless they get caught.”

If the kids and their families successfully complete the program, they won't end up in a courtroom, won't be facing a conviction, in fact, will have the arrest taken off their record.

Juvenile Judge Deborah Shallcross says prevention is the key to keeping these kids from turning into adults consumed in a life of crime and gangs. "10 years ago, this would be too young. Kids just beginning to break the law, steal cars, break into houses, break into businesses are now 11, 12, 13, 14."She sees too many kids come through her courtroom with little hope for the future except prison or death and hopes this intervention changes that.

This program is already working in Boston, cutting homicides nearly in half. The Streetworker program will tackle one neighborhood at a time, starting with 25 kids.

For people who want to do more than talk about fixing the gang problem, they need to call and volunteer; this program needs tutors, mentors and other help to work.