February 21, 2017


Building Trust Cuts Violence. Cash Also Helps. (Rikha Sharma Rani, Feb. 21st, 2017, NY Times)

DeVone Boggan could teach a class on the art of making a statement. In 2010, he invited a group of the most dangerous gun offenders in Richmond, a Bay Area city of about 100,000 residents, to a conference room at City Hall. At each seat was a name card starting with "Mr." and an information folder labeled "Operation Peacemaker." Wearing a suit and his signature fedora, Boggan began the meeting by apologizing on behalf of the city for not reaching out to the men sooner. Peace in Richmond, he told them, must come through them. When the meeting was over and everyone got up to leave, Boggan called them back. The men, already wary, assumed they would be arrested. Instead, Boggan handed each an envelope containing $1,000. "We wanted to send sound waves through the community," Boggan said. "Facebook blew up."

The previous year, Richmond police department officials had told Boggan, the director of the city's Office of Neighborhood Safety, that they thought 17 men were responsible for 70 percent of the city's gun crime. At the time, Richmond was among the most dangerous cities in the country. Its homicide rate had reached 46 per 100,000 residents -- triple Chicago's rate. At one point, the City Council had even considered declaring a state of emergency. Boggan asked each official to independently send him the names of the 17 men, an exercise that yielded 28 unduplicated names. In the three months it took to make contact with all of them, three died of gun related injuries. He invited the remaining 25 to City Hall, and 21 showed up.

Boggan is the architect of Operation Peacemaker Fellowship, a controversial program initiated in 2010 that shares features with Cure Violence and Ceasefire, two other programs that, over the last two decades, have become models for reducing gun violence. Like the others, Boggan's method uses data and intelligence to identify people highly likely to commit or become victims of gun violence; it then connects them with job training, mentorship and social services while deploying outreach teams to intervene in conflicts.

But it also does something else. After six months, its subjects -- most are African-American males between 14 and 27 years old -- are eligible for a monthly cash stipend of up to $1,000 for up to nine months (Boggan's meeting in 2010 with the first cohort was played out in a way designed to turn heads and attract more fellows into the program). The city's average homicide rate in the five years that preceded the arrival of Operation Peacemaker was 40 per 100,000 residents. In the next five years, it dropped by nearly 60 percent.

Modeled after Cure Violence, the Richmond program treats gun violence as an epidemic disease that spreads by exposure to it.

Posted by at February 21, 2017 6:07 AM