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Richmond gets $6 million to tackle rising gun violence

on October 20, 2022

Aiming to curb gun violence before it begins, the California Violence Intervention & Prevention Grant Program recently awarded $6 million to Richmond.

Allocated by the Office of Neighborhood Safety, the money will support education and life skills programs, employment training, street outreach and stipends for would-be offenders of violent crime. Those programs fall under the office’s Operation Peacemaker, which will receive about a third of the grant money. 

Operation Peacemaker launched an 18-month fellowship program in 2010 that incentivizes those linked to potential gun violence by paying them $3,600 in exchange for a commitment to not engage in crime. The goal is to prevent deaths and incarceration in Black and brown communities and to make those at risk for being involved in violence to become change agents in their communities.

“Homicides are significantly down from what they were a decade ago,” said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt. “We think that ONS has been a critical part of that.” 

Operation Peacemaker was established by the ONS after a spike in crime plagued the city. Violent crimes decreased by 66% from 2010-2017, according to Advance Peace, a nonprofit started by DeVone Boggan, ONS’ former director, who launched the Peacemaker Fellowship. In its 2021 evaluation of the program, Advance Peace noted that of the 29 fellows that year, none had any new gun injuries and  90% had not been arrested since their involvement in the program.

 Operation Peacemaker has received acclaim from President Biden for its effectiveness and faces its greatest challenge yet — integrating a class of 175 fellows, following a decline in enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those fellows will start the program at a time when gun-related crimes are steadily rising. This year, Richmond had 18 homicides with three months still left in the year, compared to 18 in the entirety of 2021.

“I think what we are seeing, and I think what local stakeholders are seeing in cities like Richmond and even elsewhere, is that policing doesn’t prevent gun violence,” Boggan told Richmond Confidential last year. “Policing typically responds to gun violence, after the fact.”

ONS project manager Sam Vaughn said in addition to the fellowship, the grant will support work immersion and mentoring programs and will provide supportive services, as well as subsidized employment internships. 

“All the money that comes into our office goes right out into the community,” Vaughn said. 

ONS will work with RichmondWORKS to help youth find employment. Tamara Walker, deputy community services director for RichmondWorks, said the organization helps youth attain high school diplomas and driver’s licenses to better position them for work. She said RichmondWorks tries to place people in high-growth, high-wage jobs but first assesses their readiness to join the workforce.

 “We understand that before we send anyone to employment, we have to make sure that they’re ready, because No. 1, we don’t want them to fail, because if they fail, it is a let down and they won’t come back,” Walker said. “We have to make sure that when we are working with them, that what we say we can do, we can do.”

Some of the grant also will go to the Richmond Police Activities League, the RYSE Center and the Safe Return Project — initiatives that nurture Richmond’s youth and provide transformational services andn a safe space away from crime. 

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