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Group seeks to stop fights before they start
June 3, 2024

By William Cramp Fit Flyer reporters | Philly Truce is trying to help people stop violence in Philadelphia.

The organization has been working on a new version of a phone app that it created a few years ago. Anyone who sees a conflict brewing will be able to use the app to ask for help. Philly Truce has trained mediators who can help people settle their arguments without violence, according to Steven Pickens, Philly Truce president.

Mr. Pickens has lived in Philadelphia all his life. He and a high school friend, Mazzie Casher, started Philly Truce in late 2020 because they wanted to do something to stop violence. About 500 people were murdered in the city that year.

“We couldn’t just sit by and watch the news,” says Mr. Pickens, who has worked as an emergency medical technician and firefighter for 21 years in Philadelphia. He and Mr. Casher, who has a career in communications, volunteer for Philly Truce.

They started their organization by setting up a phone hotline. The people staffing the hotline were volunteers who had gone through about 40 hours of training about how to resolve conflicts.

“Community members having a disagreement would be able to call to get help before it gets violent,” Mr. Pickens says. “Then we decided instead of a phone number, we would use an app” for texting be- cause it’s more popular.

The app went live in 2022, and about 200 people used it during the next year and a half, says Mr. Casher, the executive director of Philly Truce. People wanted to know what to do about an unsafe situation they were in or how to handle a problem with a neighbor. Philly Truce helped almost half of those 200 people to avoid a bad situation, Mr. Pickens says. His group did not hear what happened to the other app users after their first text.

Philly Truce took the app offline last fall so it could be updated specifically for kids to use. It is expected to be ready for the new school year in September. Mr. Pickens says he and his team are working on the app with the School District of Philadelphia’s Safety Office. The goal is to help students get home from school safely and to help resolve conflicts both in and out of school before they become violent.

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