In 2007, Richmond, California was the 9th most dangerous city in America facing an epidemic of homicides. But now, 5 years later, the number of homicides has been cut in half. Homicides are one of the leading causes of years of lost life, so a halving of the homicide rate is an amazing public health victory. In what other areas do we achieve a halving of risk in 5 years? Not in smoking. Certainly not in physical activity. So how was Richmond so successful in halving its rate of homicides?
As described in a recent New York Times article the city’s unique approach to reducing gun violence involved paying young men at risk of shooting or being a victim of gun violence to attend regular meetings, engage in mentoring and stay out of trouble. They could earn up to $1,000 a month for a maximum of nine months. The program rarely paid the full amount and cost much less than Richmond’s share of the estimated $229 billion 2012 price tag of national gun violence, yet still showed stunning effectiveness. Although the main outcome was to reduce homicides, they also found improved rates of school attendance and employment and decreased drug use among these young men. Additionally, many men went on to participate in other programs to improve their prospects and that of the neighborhood.
ONS mentors like Kevin Yarbrough patrol Richmond’s streets, searching for information and building trust. Photo by Brian L. Frank
The success of Richmond’s Office of Neighborhood Safety in curtailing violence is especially pertinent as many cities grapple with strained relationships between local police and the communities they serve. Policing tactics have been hotly debated and covered in the media, with a common theme that some level of reform is needed. The use of police body cameras has probably been the most highly publicized, intended to increase police transparency and accountability when incidents occur. However, outfitting police with cameras can be costly. Strategies that focus on building relationships and trust to reduce crime, collectively called community policing, are highlighted less often, but have promising potential. The Office of Neighborhood Safety and the Los Angeles Police Departments’ Community Safety Partnership, have had support from various stakeholders and serve as examples that improving trust in police departments is a necessary piece of a large puzzle in reducing violence.