Richmond Gun Violence Drops By Half After Offenders Get Support … Including Cash

1 min
Operation Peacemaker Fellows visiting pyramids in Mexico City.  (Richmond Office of Neighborhood Safety)

Richmond had a rough reputation. Now researchers call it a national model for reducing gun violence. They credit the city’s dramatic turnaround to a program that offers criminals cash not to shoot.

In 2010 , when the city's homicide rate was soaring, city workers offered Richmond's most dangerous players training and support to stay out of trouble. Specifically, Operation Peacemaker provides job training, substance abuse treatment, mentorship and up to a thousand bucks a month if individuals put away their guns.

“The stipend is a gesture of saying you are valuable, your expertise is valuable, your contribution to this work of creating a healthier city is valuable,” DeVone Boggan, the program's  creator, told KQED in 2016. He said private grants pay for the stipends.

Boggan started the program after analyzing city crime data. He discovered that a small percentage of the population committed most of the shootings. By singling out about 30 ring leaders Boggan believed he could have the greatest effect on reducing gun violence. He was right.

A new study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, finds gunshot wounds and killings have fallen by about 50 percent since the fellowship program began.

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Jennifer Ahern, a UC Berkeley epidemiologist,  praises the multi-pronged approach, even as she warns of unintended consequences. "The unexpected finding was a small increase in non-firearm related violence like being punched, or being kicked or perhaps a knife might be involved."

Ahern theorizes the 16 percent rise in beatings and stabbings may be happening because gang members are working out conflicts through other means than guns. Or, the uptick may result from changing power dynamics on the streets.

"As the program is rolled out in new cities we think it's important for them to keep an eye out for other forms of violence," Ahern says. "It's possible violence may shift in how it's carried out."

However, Ahern says her cautionary note is not meant to undermine the program's success. As Richmond's gun violence plummets, the fellows are thriving. Of the 106 fellows who have participated, 85 have not had a firearm-related injury, and 74 are not suspects in a firearm-related crime. And the true highlight: 101 of the 106 young men are alive.

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