How A City Is Slashing Gun Crime With A Paid Fellowship For Would-Be Shooters

Ben Schiller | Co.Exist | March 1, 2016

Richmond, California, has created a controversial program that breaks the cycle of violence with mentorship, services, and a $1,000-a-month stipend.

A few years ago, the city of Richmond, California, embarked on a radical new approach to gun violence. Instead of simply arresting, prosecuting, and jailing its shooters, it started helping them. It formed a fellowship program, introduced intensive mentoring, and asked these "high-risk individuals" to agree to wide-ranging life-goals.
The strategy appears to be working. Since 2007—the year it launched its Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS)—there's been a 76% reduction in firearm-related homicides and a 66% reduction in firearm-related assaults. Helping young men break a cycle of hopelessness and nihilism gets results, officials say.

"We're trying to get them to dream, to hope, to go from a place of 'I don't give a f---' to a place where 'Maybe I do,'" says DeVone Boggan, director of the ONS. "Because the moment you start to give a damn, you start to make decisions that are healthier about how you handle the conflicts you're negotiating every day." The office's fellowship program is controversial, because as well as helping with education, career development, anger management, parenting, medical health, spirituality, and so on, there's also a financial element. Each fellow who makes it past the first six months gets $1,000-a-month for the next nine months. The fellows, in a sense, are being paid not to shoot each other.

The program springs from a statistical observation: A large amount of gun violence in cities is typically perpetrated by a relatively small number of people. In Richmond's case, the police said just 28 people committed 70% of gun-related assaults or homicides in 2009. (The city has a population of about 108,000 and saw 45 firearm-related homicides and 186 firearm-related assaults that year.) ONS, which exists outside conventional law enforcement, initially focused on sending out change agents or "violence interrupters" to community. But, after early success, it saw an uptick in violence in 2009. That's when Boggan started focusing on the core group, all of whom were African American and aged 16-28 years old. He invited 25 individuals—three had died while Boggan was conceiving his plan—and 21 turned up...