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Rochester Hears About What Other Cities Are Doing to Stop Gun Violence

Patti Singer

DeVone Boggan, CEO of Advance Peace in Richmond, California, considers a question during news conference prior to the Violence Prevention Summit July 29, 2021, at the convention center. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Richmond, California, wanted to reduce gun violence.

Rochester, New York, wants to – needs to – reduce gun violence.

Will the plan used in Richmond translate to Rochester?

“It’s never a one size fits all,” said DeVone Boggan, chief executive officer of Advance Peace and the keynote speaker July 29 at the Violence Prevention Summit at Joseph Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center.

“Obviously every city respectively has its own little nuances, but the platform is such that it meets the need of … the community of active firearm offenders,” Boggan said. “One thing I can tell you is no matter where you go in this country, that particular community is that community everywhere.”

The summit was the first, large public event for the city’s recently created Office of Neighborhood Safety, a new initiative modeled on what’s being done in Richmond.

Prior to founding the organization that creates fellowships for young men involved in gun violence, Boggan was director of the Office of Neighborhood Safety in Richmond, which is where Rochester got the idea.

Rochester’s Office of Neighborhood Safety is part of the Department of Recreation and Human Services. Commissioner Daniele Lyman-Torres said she hoped the summit would allow regular people – not just those associated with community-based organizations – to learn about and be inspired by what’s been happening around the country. The summit had a panel discussion with anti-violence experts from Oakland, California; Newark, New Jersey; and Rochester City Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot. Breakout sessions fostered discussion.

“We absolutely need to get to people who have lived experience, who are boots on the ground and how to involve them all,” Lyman-Torres said.

The free event served as launch for communitywide anti-violence strategic planning that will be under the direction of ONS coordinator Kiah Nyame.

“The structure really will be in the communitywide plan, not necessarily in who is doing the work, but in the plan itself,” Lyman-Torres said. “And so we really do hope to push it all out, down to the community level, at the grassroots neighborhood-based level, even individual level.”

Attendees at the Violence Prevention listen to the panel discussion that included participants via teleconference. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

According to the city, 150 people attended.

Rochester had 40 homicides in the first seven months of 2021, according to the Rochester Police Department Open Data Portal. The city had 51 in 2020 and 32 in 2019. The last time the city had more than 40 killings was in 2016, when it had 41 for 12 months.

In early July, federal authorities began targeting what they called known gun offenders. The Violence Prevention and Elimination Response (VIPER) task force arrested about two dozen people in Rochester, seven of whom may face federal charges, according to Rochester Police.

VIPER is scheduled to last 60 days and then be evaluated for effectiveness, at which point it may continue.

Even members of law enforcement say that arrests and prosecution can’t be the only solutions. Social justice advocates and activists said the root causes of gun violence include poor education, lack of jobs and entrenched poverty.

“Wherever we can be of help to our law enforcement community, particularly around areas where demonstrated data over time, suggest that this is just not in their wheelhouse,” Boggan said. “We’ve got to tap into community and get connected that way.”

The vision of Advance Peace is “believe in an America without urban gun violence.” According to its website, Advance Peace creates fellowships that works with and supports individuals who are at the core of gun violence. Advance Peace says it “bridges the gap between anti-violence programming and a hard-to-reach population … thus breaking the cycle of gun hostilities … .”

The fellowships can run as long as six years. Asked how success is measured, Boggan said, “After 18, 24 months, 72 months, if those individuals are still alive, that’s success because they’re the most likely to be dead within six to 12 months of their engagement of our work. If those individuals are less likely to have been injured by a firearm during their fellowship engagement and therefore after their engagement that’s success. And the coup de grace for us is, is that for every fellow enrolled into this fellowship program, one of the things that we want to see is over time, they are less on the radar of law enforcement in the local community.”

Lightfoot said Advance Peace may not come out of the box ready to be used in Rochester. “I think you have to tailor and customize things for your community.”

He used the Person in Crisis Team as an example. PIC is based on a program in Eugene, Oregon, that Lightfoot said has been adjusted to fit Rochester.

“This is another opportunity to do the same thing when it comes to violence prevention,” he said.

Another question is whether Rochester has the will to see such a project through. Mayor Lovely Warren, who created and budgeted for the Office of Neighborhood Safety, lost the Democratic primary to Malik Evans. Evans, who does not have an opponent on the ballot in November, used his primary campaign to address violence.

“We know what happens when we don’t (have the will),” Warren said. “We know that if we don’t stay with it, then we will revert back to the way things were.”