Target 11: Group Violence Intervention unit working with Pittsburgh police to curb violence

PITTSBURGH — With this recent uptick in violence, Target 11 investigator Rick Earle sat down with the man who runs the Group Violence Intervention unit in the city of Pittsburgh.

Members of that unit work hand-in-hand with Pittsburgh police in an effort to curb the violence.

The unit began five years ago, and the director says it’s made a difference.

“My team is putting their lives on the line on a regular basis. The people that we are blessed to work with on our team, they love hard, they love the community and they are about the village,” said GVI Director Cornell Jones. “They’re trying to really make sure that these young people have a chance.”

Jones and 15 other civilian members in his unit work out in the community with at-risk individuals, attempting to steer them away from a life of crime.

Jones refers to his staff as violence interrupters. They do everything from delivering food to providing access to social services to negotiating compromise to making sure kids are enrolled in school.

Jones said the unit is making progress.

“We have stopped the violence a lot of times,” said Jones, who said his unit has also been responsible for saving lives.

Jones told Earle that he believes several factors have contributed to the recent uptick in crime, including the pandemic and economic uncertainty.

“People are robbing people because the lack of stability, the lack of jobs, so it’s not that they’re robbing people just because they want to hurt somebody. People are struggling,” said Jones.

Jones stopped short of calling it a gang problem but admitted certain groups have conflicts.

He also says that while it’s not as prevalent as it was five years ago — when the federal authorities brought down the so called “11 Hunnit” gang after the murder of their alleged leader and renowned rapper Jimmy Wopo — it’s still a problem.

“It’s always tied into the music business and drugs and money, so that’s an issue right there. It’s still an issue. In fact, a lot of videos we see on social media are like that. It’s an issue that we monitor on a regular basis,” said Jones, who takes every shooting and act of violence personally.

“It drains me. It hurts, but it pushes as a team to work harder to make sure that this type of stuff doesn’t happen,” said Jones.

Five years into the program, Jones believes there is a pathway to change, but he says it will take the entire community.

“This is all of us working together, from the communities to the schools to the clergy to everyone. I’m talking about whatever denomination. I’m talking about we’re unified working together to be able to help our babies,” said Jones.

The Group Violence Intervention unit is in the process of arranging a meeting between the mayor and City Council and at-risk individuals in the community.

The goal is to find out what’s driving the recent uptick in violence and what can be done to stop it.

The meeting will be held at an undisclosed location and time later this month.

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