Fort Worth city leaders are exploring two anti-crime programs that have had success in other cities in an attempt to lower violent crime related to gangs.
At the direction of the City Council, Fort Worth police Deputy Chief Neil Noakes began to research the Advance Peace program in Richmond, California, and the Stand Up SA program in San Antonio.
Leaders began seeking alternative ways to fight crime after the Star-Telegram wrote about the Advance Peace program in June following a particularly violent May when three deaths and 10 shootings were attributed to gang violence.
During a City Council work session on Tuesday afternoon, council members Kelly Allen Gray and Gyna Bivens and Mayor Betsy Price said they became interested in the programs after reading the Star-Telegram story.
Both programs focus heavily on prevention by developing partnerships with ex-convicts. The programs also mirror some goals already in use by the Comin’ Up Gang Intervention program within the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Tarrant County, which attempts to keep at-risk youth from becoming involved in gang activity.
“The problem is, we’ve looked internally to find answers rather than looking outside of ourselves,” Noakes told the council. “So, when Kelly Allen Gray came to us with this proposal, we thought it would be a great idea to look at other agencies.”
The Richmond program’s goal is to end cyclical and retaliatory gun violence.
“What they’re talking about is a study that says that in areas of high violence and gun violence — where someone is being shot, being shot at, or witnessing a shooting — a young person who experiences that is twice as likely to commit violence themselves within two years, keeping the cycle going,” Noakes said.
The program partners with the men most responsible for gun violence and offers them an alternative — to be positive mentors for the younger men of Richmond who have been following in their footsteps. And the mentors get paid for it. Those being mentored, called peace-making fellows, work with their mentors to create goals, which include finishing a GED, finding a job, paying child support, and getting a copy of their birth certificate and Social Security card.
Richmond saw a 66% drop in gun violence within seven years. However, the cost of the program is a setback. Noakes said it is about $600,000 annually with a five-year commitment, for a total of $3 million.
In San Antonio, leaders created the Stand Up SA program as they began to treat violence as a health issue similar to an infectious disease.
Similar to the Richmond program, it uses “credible messengers” hired by the city and trained to develop relationships and trust to stop crime before it happens. This workers help to identify potential shootings — like retaliatory gang shootings — before they happen. And they identify the people most at-risk to be involved in a shooting whether as the perpetrator or the victim.
The workers then intervene by helping to mediate conflicts and connecting people to social services needed to get them on their feet.
The San Antonio program began in 2014 and program supervisor Jasmine Walker told the Rivard Report that they treat violence like a disease because “we believe it’s passed along.”
Noakes said the next steps for Fort Worth include traveling to Richmond and San Antonio to learn more about the inner workings of the programs.
It’s likely Fort Worth won’t enact a program exactly like either of these, but will use the ideas and principals of those programs to create something that works for Fort Worth.
Noakes also said the police department would like to leverage local resources and other programs that are in place to help including Operation Process, Hope Farm, FWPD Gang Intervention and faith and community leaders. This will help connect people with resources and help support economic development and long-term revitalization in the neighborhoods most affected by violence.
“We want to partner with people in the community who want to make a positive difference in Fort Worth,” Noakes said. “And we want to connect people that have needs with people who have the resources.”
The Comin’ Up Gang Intervention program was enacted at the height of Fort Worth’s gang problems in 1994. It is funded through the city’s Crime Control and Prevention District budget.
Daphne Barlow Stigliano, the CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Tarrant County, says the program continues to be a success. Last year, mentors worked with more than 700 people between 13 and 24 and about 168 of them — or 24% — completed a goal.
“Our goal is to really help our young people achieve a life change,” she said. “A life change is really specific — it can be one of several things, like obtaining a high school diploma, completing a GED, a semester of college, 90 days of employment or joining the military.”
Barlow Stigliano said the process to get participants on the right path can take a long time, but eventually they hope to lead them to more positive activities.
The program runs until late at night, giving its participants something positive to do after school, like study or play a sport.
Participants are referred by the juvenile justice system, police, or word of mouth.
“I think a big misunderstanding is that young people in these situations are perceived as to not wanting their lives to be better, but we often find that young people want better things for themselves, but they don’t know how or don’t have the resources to make the needed changes,” Barlow Stigliano said. “When they find the help, they will tell each other where they got that help.”
Barlow Stigliano agreed that programming, like the Comin’ Up program, and how police handle gang activities has to shift with the times.
“Gang activity has evolved and shifted and what it means to be in a gang might be different than when this program started in the ‘90s,” she said. “It’s maybe a little bit more non-traditional. Young people might affiliate with a gang a little more loosely than what they did in the past and how we help young people has shifted as well.”