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California City Solutions: Richmond Creates Model to Reduce Gun Violence through Cooperative Participation

July 18, 2014
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
These entries are also now available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. Richmond’s Office of Neighborhood Safety was submitted in 2013 for the Public Safety award category.
Youth related gun violence has continued at an alarming rate in the city of Richmond in recent years. In an effort to reduce crime related to gun violence, the city created the Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS) in October 2007. By working cooperatively with the police department and the broader community, Richmond now reports the lowest number of firearm assaults and homicides in more than a decade.
In 2009, the city experienced 47 homicides, a rate of 45.9 per 100,000 residents, compared to the statewide rate of 5.4 per 100,000 that year. Richmond was then ranked the 14th most dangerous city in the country based upon violent crime rates.
The Richmond Police Department discovered that shootings and homicides are driven by a very small group of individuals. More than 80 percent of the individuals in this group in Richmond are engaged in violent activity or are objects of that activity, with a majority having previous contact with the criminal/juvenile justice system.
In contrast to the widely dispersed structure of gangs found in some urban communities, rival groups in Richmond tend to be strongly geographically based. Membership is often unorganized and tends to be multi-generational rather than hierarchical. Youth related gun violence within the city is often as a result of a group’s turf or power violations, which then leads to an attack on the individuals in a rival geographic area, followed by multiple cycles of retaliation. These cycles can take place within days or extend over a period of years as one group seeks revenge from a past rival’s disrespect.
Richmond’s ONS was developed to solely focus on reducing the loss of life associated with firearm offenses. A non-law enforcement agency under the direction of the city manager’s office, it provides and coordinates quick and targeted intervention services for those identified as active firearm offenders who have avoided sustained criminal consequences. It also facilitates two primary strategies to achieve its goals and objectives:
  • The Street Outreach Strategy; and
  • Operation Peacemaker Fellowship. 
Outreaching to 150-200 young adults annually, ONS provides attention-intensive engagement, and a support structure designed to improve the social and emotional health and wellness of individuals related to gun violence.
The city’s Street Outreach Strategy is achieved by a team of Neighborhood Change Agents (NCAs) who directly engage on a daily, face-to-face basis, with individuals identified as most likely to be perpetrators and/or victims of gun violence. NCAs are city employees that serve as mentors, building healthy and consistent relationships, acting as credible messengers of healthy information, and teaching examples of positive and healthy lifestyles. ONS provides access to quality opportunities, resources and services through its NCAs, building on the identified group’s strengths in order to reduce their involvement in gun violence.
The Operation Peacemaker Fellowship is a non-mandated, intensive Transformative Mentoring Intervention program designed for individuals, ages 16-25, that have been identified as current promoters and/or instigators of firearm offences in Richmond. This intervention helps to change the attitudes and behaviors of the individuals provoking gun violence. The fellowship strongly seeks individuals who have been the most resistant to change and have been chronically unresponsive to the traditional range of services offered in the community. Not only do these individuals pose a public safety threat to the community, but they are among the most expensive population to serve with respect to the costs of policing, incarceration, hospitalization, and social services. Enabling a productive new path for them has created a positive effect on their communities, families and peers, as well as saving tax payer dollars.
Fellows are provided small incentives (including monetary incentives) in exchange for their partnership, active program participation, positive behavior, and meeting a range of life development/skills, education, employment and restorative justice goals. The incentive structure functions to provide a gateway for the advancement of core motivation that arises from internal rewards.
Specific outcomes from the Street Outreach Strategy include:
  • 2,422 outreach contacts facilitated by NCAs;
  • 212 individuals who are at high risk of being involved in gun violence provided culturally competent and responsive services including intensive support and mentoring/life coaching;
  • 154 service referrals were facilitated by NCAs; and
  • 39 individuals who are at high risk of being involved in gun violence participated in life skills training facilitated by NCAs. 
There have been two Operation Peacemaker Fellowship programs since 2010. Of the 43 fellows enrolled:
  • 43 developed individualized life plans (LifeMaps);
  • 41 are alive;
  • 34 have no new gun charges since becoming a fellow;
  • 32 have no gun violence related arrests since becoming fellow; and
  • 37 have no gun related injuries or hospitalization since becoming a fellow. 
In 2012, the city of Richmond recorded the lowest number of firearm assaults and homicides in more than a decade, with a 61 percent reduction in gun related crime since the creation of ONS in 2007.
ONS relies on the support and partnership of local and regional law enforcement agencies, and community based organizations to help accomplish its goals. These agencies are instrumental in ensuring that ONS is focusing its limited resources on the right people to achieve maximum impact from each strategy. The Operation Peacemaker Fellowship is supported by philanthropic partners, as well as private foundations and donors who help fund the incentive structure of the fellowship program.
The participants’ dedication is the most important contribution to the success of the Operation Peacemaker Fellowship. The program’s theory is that cities must partner in new ways with those who can best influence the elimination of the gun violence. The tools provided by ONS are critical resources when empowering these individuals to make the choice to stop shooting.

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