Crime doesn’t pay, as the old cliched saying goes. But maybe you can pay to not commit crime.
That was the idea in Richmond, California and it seems to have paid off, literally. Back in 2009, the city of just over 100,000 was suffering from an unusually high homicide rate. And rather than being widespread, 70 percent of the city’s gun violence could be directly traced back to just 28 individuals. The situation was so bad that in 2006, the city briefly considered bringing the U.S. National Guard to pacify the seemingly uncontrollable situation.
Enter “Operation Peacemaker.” That year, the city enlisted several convicted felons from the community to serve as ambassadors to the city’s youth.
“These are the young men who are isolated, idle, enraged. And all they have access to from government today is law enforcement,” Devone Boggan, Director Office of Neighborhood Safety, told CNN. So, rather than throwing mole police at the problem, they sent these men with records, men who intimately know their own communities, to work directly with the next generation before they were saddled with their own criminal records.
Today, those four “Neighborhood Change Agents” have made a measurable impact in the community. The youth they mentor, called “fellows”, must first complete a six month program which involves regularly meeting up with the agents on their progress. After that, they are eligible for a $1,000 monthly stipend. And there are other potential perks like giving a $100 bonus to the first fellow who earns their drivers license. They also receive opportunities to travel across the state talking to other youth about the dangers of gun violence. And finally, the program identifies internship opportunities.
As for the results? Homicides by firearms have declined by 76 percent since the initiative began in 2009.
“That’s nothing compared to the cost of gun violence,” Boggan said.