By Tracie Isaac
Victor Saunders, a Rochester native was recently appointed as Special Advisor on Violence Prevention Programs to the incoming administration of Mayor Malik Evans. Saunders brings nearly 30-years of experience working with various youth facilities, Rochester City School District, gang intervention and crisis prevention strategies.
Mayor Evans announced in late January 2022, that all City of Rochester violence prevention programs and initiatives will fall under the purview of Saunders.
With the rise of youth and gun violence, Mayor Evans is addressing the increase of violence with the addition of Saunders experience and passion for youth and street ministry. Serving three previous administrations with programs such as Pathways to Peace which Saunders helped to create in 1998, Office of Neighborhood Safety and Peacemaker Fellowship, Saunders has been involved with the effect of COVID, illegal guns, unemployment, support resources for ex-offenders, and food insecurities are having on our community.
Some of the top priorities for Saunders new role include:
– Developing strategies that will be impactful throughout the community
– Early intervention (in schools and in the community) addressing early signs of negative behavior in schools and with families to provide the necessary help and resources to avoid negative outcomes and improve performance in the school systems
– Direct initiatives for re-entry and probation populations
– Assisting individuals to become gainfully employed with careers, not just jobs
– Partnering with existing grassroots organizations who have previously worked to address intervention and prevention of violence to increase the results of their good work
– Provide victim assistance
– Mental Health resources
– Closing the gaps where prevention and intervention systems need support
In a recent interview and introduction, Saunders stated, The new administration wants to assist those who have been working in the areas of intervention and prevention to ensure that they are doing their jobs effectively. The intent is not to decrease their ability to perform their current tasks. The goal is to add the necessary resources to fill the gaps where support is needed and to have a greater success rate.”
The current violence seen in youth from 14 – 18 years of age is different from perhaps 10 to 15-years ago and can be attributed to the growth of poverty, systemic racism, the pandemic and re-entering individuals from state penitentiaries.
At the conclusion of recent Town Hall meetings where the focus was on the growing incidents of violence, a comprehensive strategy to address the issues causing violence, gun violence, as well as the trauma experienced by those associated with the incidents and the effect on the community is being developed.
Saunders stated that some of the key questions about the behavior of those involved in the violent incidents include:
Why do these individuals behave that way? Additionally, what is more important is what happened to these individuals that creates the behavior? The goal is to answer those questions by identifying the reasons the young people are involved in these incidents and find a strategy with the resources to address the issues affecting the negative behavior. This may change the behavior of youth to become adults who can handle the various situations that may arise without negative results.
“We believe that the economic component drives the influences of homicide incidents,” stated Saunders.
Goals that are being established as part of the Violence Prevention strategy:
– Increase employment in the most affected city areas
– Expand job training and employment opportunities
– Increase in number of youth involved in conflict resolution training
– Decrease the homicide rate city-wide
Saunders feels that the new initiatives will go beyond the opportunity of employment with the help of organizations who have responded to the feedback. The proposed initiatives offer a different approach that is more connected to engaging individuals with a direct way to destress and become connected to additional stages of development.
Through the Office of Neighborhood Safety, a direct connection to neighborhood block clubs/associations, the City School District, youth agencies, grassroot and non-profit organizations, and Recreation Centers will provide access to youth. With the partnership of these organizations, we will be able to enroll and provide the programs and resources to address young people at any stage and offer the families assistance in their parenting role to help redirect and intervene with the issues.
In the past the Social and Emotional Teams that functioned at schools like #8 were effective and could be duplicated in other schools to gain access to the household of the children displaying negative behavior. This would allow the teams to be involved and address the behavior from the home to the school and to the community.
Recently at the Baber A.M.E. Church, the GIVE Initiative, which is a program that is mandatory for parolees to attend by their Probation Officers, presented re-entry opportunities directly to this audience with the necessary resources “on sight” such as Case Management, obtaining identification, job training, education/trade grant assistance and guaranteed job placement. This initiative is the kind of immediate engagement that will direct the lives of these individuals in the right direction.
An existing peer-to-peer program is the Peacemakers Fellowship consisting of prior offenders of gun violence or open gun cases who can mentor individuals and new offenders. Program participants can receive an incentive to help them to be able to participate in the Peacemakers Fellowship which requires meeting with their mentor a few times per week and adhere to other requirements.
The strategic plan for the Violence Prevention will be an ongoing initiative that will be connected to existing and new city agencies with growing opportunities in areas of success.