Violence Interrupters challenging the cycle of crime in the District

The District is seeing a tragic start to 2019.

D.C. families are in mourning as the homicide rate is up more than 60 percent from last year -- for January alone.

Duane Cunningham is part of one effort underway to try to stop the murders before they happen. He's one of twenty men and women hired as Violence Interrupters by the city's Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement. They don't work for the police; they are people from the communities who understand what it's like to live in a violent neighborhood. The Violence Interrupters are paid to infiltrate high crime areas and develop confidential relationships with young people, even act as mentors.

Cunningham, a former drug dealer, spent 10 years behind bars himself. He knows what the kids are going through.

"A lot of these kids feel like nobody is listening to them," he said. "We gotta break the cycle some type of way."

He says it can start as early as elementary school kids.

The Violence Interrupters work to mediate, build relations and help to squash beefs, before a crime is committed.

"Some people want a ceasefire. They want to say ya'll stay on ya'll's side, we're going to stay on our side - sometimes that's all you're going to get. But, guess what, as long as they're not going to disrespect each other, and shoot each other," Cunningham said.

Cunningham holds cookouts trying to encourage neighbors to get to know one another and look out for each other.

Each time a homicide is reported - it's a blow, but he is dedicated to making progress.

"We can change the neighborhoods out here we just need everybody to help," Cunningham said.

The program began last spring. City officials are tracking it closely. They say the success of prevention is hard to measure but it's a necessary part of the equation.