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Washtenaw United: 'WeLIVE' program reducing retaliatory violence in Washtenaw County

Washtenaw County Sheriff
Courtesy Photo
Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office
Washtenaw County Sheriff


Roger Roper

WeLIVE team member Roger Roper.
Doug Coombe
Concentrate Media
WeLIVE team member Roger Roper.

Roger is a community violence interventionist who works within the WeLIVE program. Nearly 20 years ago, he was shot during a robbery and has been paralyzed from the chest down since that time. He now works to help others who have been injured during a violent altercation. His goal is to save lives by stopping violence before it happens.

Derrick Jackson

Derrick Jackson
Washtenaw County
Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office director of community engagement Derrick Jackson.

Derrick is the social worker who became a police officer and for the last 14 years, he has helped run the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office as the Director of Community Engagement. He is the architect of several diversion programs and WeLIVE is one of those programs.


Washtenaw County Sheriff


Community Violence Intervention Team (CVIT) Recommendations


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And today, we're going to talk about violence--more specifically preventing violence before it happens. I'm David Fair, and this is Washtenaw United. It's our weekly exploration of equity and opportunity in our community. Violence: it robs all too many of their opportunities. And that manifests in a number of ways. It's a social problem, a criminal issue, and a matter of public health. There's a program in Washtenaw County called WeLIVE. It is the first hybrid prevention and intervention model in the state of Michigan. We're going to talk today with two people charged with making the program work. Derrick Jackson is the director of community engagement for the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office. And thank you for your time, Derrick. I appreciate it.

Derrick Jackson: Thank you, David, for having us.

David Fair: And Roger Roper is a community outreach specialist who has a vested interest in violence prevention. Roger, thank you so much for coming in today.

Roger Roper: Thank you for having me.

David Fair: Derrick, WeLIVE is an acronym. What does it stand for?

Derrick Jackson: So, it's really based off of a program out of Detroit called DLIVE, or "Detroit Life is Valuable Every Day." So, WeLIVE is "Washtenaw Embraces Life is Valuable Every Day."

David Fair: That's perfect. How does the program actually work?

Derrick Jackson: So, you know, years ago, I knew a young person who I kind of watched grow up. And then one day, he was shot. And I knew that we needed to do something different before he got out of the hospital, and I heard about this group out of Detroit that took individuals who had been violently injured, train them up, employed them, and then sent them into the hospital at people's bedside to really help deal with the trauma of being violently injured in hopes that they could help someone deter retaliation and not think about going out there and turning their pain into someone else's pain. And so, really what, WeLIVE is it's the ability for people to go out there and meet with people who've been violently injured and hopefully help them recover in the appropriate way and to deal with their anger and their trauma and not harm other people after that.

David Fair: That's where you come in, Roger. When you sit at the bedside of someone who's just suffered traumatic injury or meet with them after they've just been released with the hospital, as Derrick said, the hope is they're vulnerable enough to kind of hear and digest the message and make different choices. I could also envision that it's a time when a person might be highly defensive. How do you approach them in a way they can really hear what you have to say?

Roger Roper: Well, first of all, you let them vent and let them get out all their emotions and how they feel about what's going on and what happened. And then, you just sit down and hope that when you get through talking to them that they trust you and understand that you've been through what they're going through.

David Fair: 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United in our conversation with community outreach worker Roger Roper and Derrick Jackson from the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office continues. Roger, I mentioned at the beginning that you have a vested interest in violence prevention, and that is in part because you are a violence survivor. Today, you came in for this interview in a wheelchair. What happened?

Roger Roper: Well, I was robbed and shot twice in the chest, and I've been in a wheelchair ever since.

David Fair: When you were laying in a hospital bed, did you experience rage? Did you have a desire towards retaliation?

Roger Roper: Absolutely. It was all I thought about for at least 20 hours out of the day after they told me I would never walk again. I couldn't think of anything else until I met a young man who kind of made a pivot and planted the seed in my head.

David Fair: And what was that seed?

Roger Roper: That I could do more, and life wasn't over for me.

David Fair: How do you take that experience and share it with another, so that you're giving back to the community and prevent them from taking more from the community?

Roger Roper: Well, I just come in and I try to plant those same seeds that was planted in me, and I also try to offer resources if possible.

David Fair: And you recently picked up your degree from Eastern Michigan University. Is that something you could have ever envisioned yourself without getting past that rage?

Roger Roper: Absolutely not. I was a high school dropout those days that I was in a rage.

David Fair: And, Derrick, I imagine that there might be a more open reception for Roger coming into a hospital room that an officer in uniform. Are the violent interventionists, like Roger, and outreach workers bridging a gap in community/police relationships?

Derrick Jackson: Oh, absolutely. So, I say all the time, "We can do both, right?" Like, you can actually have officers who are out there solving the crime and finding out who did this. But you also have to think about that victim and that survivor and how we plant seeds in them, as Roper talks about, to make sure that the victim doesn't become the victimizer in the future. And so, yes. I think it's really well received. And, you know, Roper is a little understated here on the radio, but the reality is he is worked with roughly 25 to 30 individuals in Washtenaw County, quite a few of them who've been in the hospital. And his ability to share his story, have them relate to him, but not just speak the language and use his personal story, but have the tools to understand how do you assess trauma and then how do you help walk someone from where they are in that hospital room. And one of the first things we try to do is help someone immediately get to safety. So, imagine. A lot of us can't imagine it, but imagine someone has just tried to murder you. You're sitting in a hospital room, and you may want to do good. You may want to do right. But if you are in fear of your life, you're thinking about how do I protect myself and my family before they come back to harm me again. So, the first thing that Roper often does is help someone get to physical safety. And then, we start working on how do you deal with that trauma. How do you actually, you know, put your life back together and move forward from this particular spot? But that's the understated work that Roger gets to do every single day.

David Fair: So, in just about a year of work, Roger, you've, as Derrick said, worked with about 25 people or so. How are they doing? What kind of differences are you seeing in those you work with?

Roger Roper: They're doing a lot better. For instance, they're working now. And now, some of them have, well, one or two of them, have turned back to crime. But I would say that's pretty good numbers for me if I got 25 people and I only got one or two that have went back into crime.

David Fair: And it is not crime in which retaliation was involved. So, the violence has not continued forward, right?

Roger Roper: No, there hasn't been any violence, just little dumb things that one or two people have done. But no one has been back into any kind of violent crime at all.

David Fair: Once again, we're talking with Derrick Jackson from the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office and community outreach member Roger Roper about the WeLIVE Violence Prevention and Intervention program here on 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United. Now, the WeLIVE program is funded through the voter-approved Washtenaw County Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage. On the public safety side of things, Derrick, gun violence remains at, dare I say, crisis levels. And a good deal of it appears retaliatory in nature. I often hear the refrain that violence is preventable. This is a new program and methodology being employed here locally. What are the early returns from a law enforcement perspective? Is it helping prevent violence?

Derrick Jackson: Absolutely. Again, you know, Roger understated it, but the fact that we've worked with roughly 25 individuals, and, to our knowledge, none of them have gone out and retaliated and shot at someone or tried to stab someone in retaliation, I think is very significant. And even though people may still have other struggles, stopping violence is our number one priority. And so, when you think about this idea that someone in our community is in a certain lifestyle, gets violently injured and then they want to retaliate, Roper getting in the middle of that and stopping that, absolutely, the community is safer because of that. We estimate 80 to 85% of the shootings in our county are retaliatory in nature. And so, if we can understand when someone is violently injured, there's a high likelihood that they may retaliate. If we interject something to potentially stop that, I think it's an amazing opportunity for us to prevent future violence. And, at the same time, David, I want to stress this. Our outreach workers are not going into the hospital and talking about the crime and trying to solve the crime. That's for our detectives. And they do a very good job. We're about 85% of our homicides are solved. The average across the country is just over 50%. So, our detectives are doing a phenomenal job on arresting the bad guy. But what we're trying to do beyond repairing the physical wounds is help with that mental trauma as well.

David Fair: Roger, those you work with, do you find that once they've had time to process what has happened to them and how they want to move forward in life, that they want to go into a line of work similar to what you are doing?

Roger Roper: Well, first of all, I haven't met one of them who was not very angry the day that I met him. And by the end of it, they all want either jobs or they would like to come and do the thing that I'm doing and work with me.

David Fair: So, Derrick, is there room for this program to expand and to take on more on board who want to work on behalf of bringing community violence to an end?

Derrick Jackson: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think, as you said earlier, it's an epidemic. It's a public health crisis. And so, for us all hands on deck. And if there is someone out there who would like to do this type of work, we really are always in a recruitment phase to hire folks and to train them up. And we know that there are those survivors out there who have an amazing story to share. And if they were able to get the training to sit in the hospital bedside, they could save someone's life. And, for us, that's a really, really important piece. We often say that those closest to the problem are closest to the solution, and Roper is just one example of that power.

David Fair: I'd like to thank you both for making time to come into the studio today and filling us in on the program called WeLIVE. Thank you both.

Derrick Jackson: Thank you.

Roger Roper: Thank you. Have a great day.

David Fair: That is Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office Director of Community Engagement Derrick Jackson and community outreach specialist Roger Roper, discussing the first of its kind in Michigan violence prevention and intervention model called WeLIVE. To find out more about the program, stop by our web site at your convenience at WEMU dot org. Washtenaw United is presented in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County. And you hear it every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.


United Way of Washtenaw County recognizes that acts of violence are often a result of poverty, racism, and trauma. Accessible and affordable mental health care for all can greatly reduce the rates of violence in Washtenaw County and nationwide.

Check out the #wishyouknew list of Mental Health Resources in Washtenaw County, to see what local organizations and hotlines are available.

Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office Director of Community Engagement, Derrick Jackson, has been a long-time partner of United Way, as a board member of the United Way of Washtenaw County.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU todayto keep your community NPR station thriving.

Like 89.1 WEMU on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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