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Violence Summit Puts Spotlight on Office of Neighborhood Safety

Patti Singer

Daniele Lyman-Torres, commissioner of the Department of Recreation and Human Services at the news conference May 4 that announced the Office of Neighborhood Safety. File photo

The Office of Neighborhood Safety was introduced in May as part of how the city would reimagine public safety.

Now, it starts to show what that could look like.

On July 26, Dr. Kiah Nyame is scheduled to begin work as coordinator of the Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS), which is housed the Department of Recreation and Human Services.

ONS is scheduled to host a violence prevention summit from 1 to 5 p.m. July 29 at the Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center. The event is open to the public.

The keynote address is by DeVone Boggan, the chief executive officer of Advance Peace of Richmond, California.

“We talk a lot about Richmond because it was the first city that had introduced the office of neighborhood safety concept,” DRHS Commissioner Lyman-Torres said. “He will talk about what they went through and how they, how they got their community together.”

Lyman-Torres said the summit is for anyone who wants to be part of finding solutions to the violence. When ONS was announced by Mayor Lovely Warren at a news conference May 4 across from the International Plaza, Rochester had seen 22 killings. There were 40 homicides as of July 14, according to the Rochester Police Department Open Data Portal.

The summit will have a panel discussion with:

  • Antoine Towers, Chairperson, Oakland Violence Prevention Coalition;
  • Willie Lightfoot Vice President Rochester City Council, co-founder of the Roc Against Gun Violence Coalition;
  • Fred Fogg, Regional Director, Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc.; and
  • Aqeela Sherrills, Newark, New Jersey Office of Violence Prevention

Attendees can participate in the following group sessions:

  • transformative mentoring, presented by Khaalid Muttaqi, COO, Advance Peace;
  • measuring outcomes in violence prevention, presented by Dr. Irshad Altheimer; and
  • the state of violence interruption in Rochester, led by Melvin Cross

The announcements of the coordinator and of the summit bring ONS back in the spotlight. Nyame has a doctorate in counseling and human development and specializes in family, youth and generational cultural trauma and youth intervention/prevention.

DRHS Commissioner Daniele Lyman-Torres talked with Minority Reporter about the work facing ONS.

MR: How do you define “community” when talking about who gets a say in forming community solutions?

Lyman-Torres: I agree that people have had these different interpretations and they seem to want to use their own lens to kind of shape the narrative. I’m saying everyone has to be at the table. We have to be open to the truth from all sources. And so everyone has to be at the table, even dissenting views. What I mean about community is civilian-led initiatives like grassroots programs and services.

What is the role of the Office of Neighborhood Safety?

It’s supposed to be a convening group, to bring everyone together and to make sure that we have everybody going in the same direction. The feds can come in and the state can come in and they don’t really know our community. They don’t know who these grassroots organizations are. We do, and they’re all invited and everybody has an opportunity to be at the table and to be a part of, to get capacity, to get support, and to be rowing in the same direction.

What’s grassroots? Is that different from what are called community based organizations, or CBOs?

CBOs are established, they have infrastructure. Grassroots are groups like ROC the Peace and Rise Up Rochester. The infrastructure’s not there. They don’t have that, but they have boots on the ground. They have people with lived experience out there doing the work, taking calls 24/7 without connections to social work, without connections to case managers, without funding. And they have the skills and the people, but they don’t have the funding.

Are those the groups you particularly want at the summit?

Yes. All are welcome, including those with infrastructure. Um, because what I’m hopeful is that, that we can all come together and that those who have the infrastructure can wrap around and support the agencies that don’t.

How do you plan to convene all the different groups that may have a different way of getting to the same goal?

We’re going to start by getting some common things we can agree on. Building a plan that has common goals and objectives that we can all agree on, that we can get consensus. That’s where we’re going to start. And we don’t have that. We don’t have common goals and objectives because we have different groups talking about different things. And we have missing voices from the table, where are the voices of people with lived experience, where the voices of the youth that we keep telling what to do. So we have to get all of this together. And once we get consensus on those, then we can start there and start with trying to formulate not only a plan, but wrapping the dollars and the capacity around the plan, and sticking to it, which is something else we don’t have the patience to do in our community, to see something through.

How do you plan to do this?

We’re going to lay the foundation at the summit, but then we’re going to get to the plan. A request for proposal will go out in August for a firm to assist in the strategic plan. Dr. Kiah Nyame is going to lead the community engagement and lead the planning process and be out there collecting the input from everyone. My goal is to start the initial planning by the end of the year. The strategic plan could be unveiled in the spring.

How will success be measured?

We need to set goals that we can measure and not just goals around the numbers of gunshots. We can count the fact that those things went down before, but yes, they’re up now, but they went down before, but the root causes are the root issues. It’s like Jenga, when those pieces were pulled out, it all fell down. And so how can we build this up in a way that’s meaningful. We will have to take a look at that, but we are going to engage all of the best minds around measurement that we can. But we really have to decide first what we’re going to do and what we want to see and then how we’re going to measure it. But we will use evidence-based strategies for measurement.