Zach Norris interviewed DeVone Boggan for We Keep Us Safe, which features (among other stories) the brilliant renegade plan for combating gun violence that Boggan dreamed up for the beleaguered city of Richmond, California.
Here’s the story from We Keep Us Safe:
When I meet with DeVone in 2018 to interview him, he’s sporting an Office of Neighborhood Safety sweatshirt and a fedora—the hat is apparently his trademark, and it suits him. We sit in the lobby of his office to talk, and as people come and go, he interrupts to greet each of them by name, usually with a long-distance fist bump. DeVone seems to me like a pioneering coach who figured out the basic math behind the game before anyone else did and thus succeeded where everyone else thought he would fail.
Undeterred, DeVone created a team of Neighborhood Change Agents to do street outreach and case management. Their primary qualification? That they had been formerly incarcerated, preferably with gun charges. “I insisted,” DeVone tells me. “I said I want them to be full-time, fully vested city employees. I wanted them to have the same benefits that I had as the Director.”
These Neighborhood Change Agents spent hours talking to people, attending family gatherings, playing dominos and basketball, so they could connect with the 30 plus people in Richmond who the police had identified as most likely to do harm or come to harm. They built a rapport with those individuals until trust was established, and then offered them a voluntary “Peacemaker Fellowship.” At first, ONS gave these Fellows social services referrals and life-skills training to find jobs and earn degrees. Later, and more controversially, it offered them a monthly cash stipend and supervised trips outside Richmond.
“’You’re paying people to not shoot each other?!’ the reporters asked
In the five years after the program’s adoption in 2010, the city’s average number of homicides per year was 18, compared to 41 homicides per year average in the five years prior. The positive economic impacts of the reduction in violence in those first five years were calculated at $500 million, making the $1.9 million costs of the program (total for 2010-2014) a worthwhile investment.
Boggan went national with this–often called “the Richmond model” –and founded Advance Peace.
At the end of 2019, Boggan popped again as I was researching the visionary Mayor of Stockton, California, Michael Tubbs.
Mayor Tubbs’ hallmark trio of programs focus on poverty (a Basic Income trial for which he’s become famous), education (Stockton Scholars ensures that every kid who graduates high school every year for the next decade is guaranteed a scholarship to college– a program funded by a private philanthropy), and violence prevention. The latter has involved–yes!, the sage counsel of none other than DeVone Boggan, and the implementation of a local Advance Peace model that led to a 40 percent reduction in homicides and a 30 percent reduction in violent crime in Stockton in the first years.
A few months into the coronavirus’ rampage across the U.S., Boggan spoke out to remind us that peacekeepers and violence prevention specialists should be considered “essential critical infrastructure workers”–they have been able to get food and supplies to neighborhoods who (for good reason) distrust government institutions and unknown service providers. “They deserve our acknowledgment, respect, and appreciation,” writes Boggan.
As does he! Looking forward to seeing Advance Peace transform a great number of American cities that are suffering from cycles of violence.