Rochester’s first 3 weeks of 2022 were unfortunately plagued with gun violence, with the deaths of a fourteen year old and a thirty year old in a separate triple shooting. The city of Rochester experienced unprecedented levels of violence in 2021, with 81 homicides and 419 shootings.
Rochester Mayor-elect Malik Evans recently announced that Rochester’s violence prevention programs will be centralized and overseen by Victor Saunders, who will be the Special Advisor to the Mayor. The Mayor’s Office revealed that Pathways For Peace, the Office of Neighborhood Safety and the Peacemaker Fellowship program will be directly reporting to Saunders, who will be a key member of the new Mayoral administration’s senior leadership team going forward.
Evans said this centralization of violence reduction programs will lead to better internal and external collaborations. “We have all the building blocks in our community – a plethora of organizations and agencies working to prevent violence – but coordination is key. With Victor leading the charge, and with additional investments in prevention efforts, we will take our violence reduction efforts to the next level.”
The City’s Pathways to Peace team offers prevention, intervention and direct monitoring to support positive progress. They extend their reach into targeted city neighborhoods engaging youth, diffusing potentially violent situations and providing connections to available resources and services.
The Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS), was once a unit within the City’s Department of Recreation and Human Services. They foster a city-wide approach to reducing violence by serving as a central hub for community-wide violence reduction strategies and guiding public- and private-sector investments in social programs that work to combat violence.
This year, Saunders plans to identify up to four Neighborhood Change Agents who will work within the Advance Peace Model – Peacemaker Fellowship program to break the cycle of gun hostilities. The model is an urban gun violence disruption strategy that works to end cyclical and retaliatory gun violence by investing in the development, health and wellbeing of those at the center of the crisis, according to the city’s press release.
The program has been successful in significantly reducing gun violence in cities including Stockton, Richmond, and Sacramento, California.
Saunders has already begun working on initiatives within the first 3 weeks of assuming his role and said he has already met with organizations including ROC The Peace, Rise Up Rochester, SNUG and Monroe County anti-violence programs, within the first 3 weeks of taking on his role as Special Advisor.
“My goal is to engage with every anti-violence effort in our city, and assist and expand these programs that are driving quantifiable results,” Saunders said.
Saunders said they will begin with interventions. He also plans to reinstitute the City’s PRIME program (Providing Real Incentives for Meaningful Employment) and offer stipends and other funding for training programs. He also works closely with “natural helpers” – leaders who provide leadership and guidance to their neighbors in positive, everyday interactions.
“And I am looking forward to expanding our efforts to employment opportunities and other meaningful alternatives to a life of violence,” Saunders said.
“We are going to be bold.”
The search for Rochester’s new Police Chief is also developing, as Mayor Evans also announced the City’s contractual agreement with Public Sector Search and Consulting, a national search firm led by CEO Gary Peterson, that focuses solely on the recruiting of senior police executives.
“We are seeking the best leader for our police force, so we have partnered with a proven and experienced national firm to help us find our new chief,” said Mayor Evans. “I am impressed by Mr. Peterson’s expertise, successful track record and commitment to a process that includes input from all interested parties.” According to the city, interviews by the firm with key city officials have already begun, to help the firm gain a better “understanding of the Department’s organizational needs, structure, culture and priorities.”
During the press conference, Evans was asked if it was fair that Rochester’s civilians were suffering at the hands of out-of-state guns trafficked in through the Iron Pipeline, who stated “Absolutely not, and I’m glad you mentioned the Iron Pipeline, and for those of you who don’t know…the Iron Pipeline, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, up I-95, the guns come into Rochester and are used in crimes. I mention this all the time to our federal partners. We have to be able to work with all levels of government to solve this issue,” he said.
Evans said the issue of crime and violence in the city is not something very hard to deal with alone, and said they plan to work with federal partners as well.
“We will innovate, and we will invest,” said Mayor Evans.
“Turning this tide of violence is a top priority.”