Study shows gun violence program works in one city. Will Fresno adopt Advance Peace?

A university study showing that Advance Peace helped reduce gun violence and save money in one California city backs up what Fresno advocates have been saying for months, they say.

Richmond’s gun-violence prevention effort from 1996 to 2016 reduced gun homicides and assaults by 55%, according to a study recently published by the American Journal of Public Health.

Other violent crime that didn’t involve a gun rose by 16% during that time, but advocates argue gun violence is a bigger problem.

The prevention program identifies the city’s most likely shooters and crosschecks them with police, according to Aaron Foster, who is behind the program in Fresno. Those potential shooters are asked to join a program run by advocates.

Foster said the Richmond study reinforces what he already knew: The program works.

“We knew the numbers were there. (Officials) just didn’t believe the numbers coming from us,” he said on Friday. “We knew the impact it had in Richmond. But, Fresno felt it was different. Fresno felt it was unique.”

“I wonder how many people have to die. I wonder what more has to happen,” he continued. “We have to do something more than what we’re doing.”

The city of Fresno nearly went forward in June with funding Advance Peace, a program aimed at the small number of known shooters who cause the most amount of trauma through gun violence.

After the program got the support for a $200,000 investment from most of the City Council, it became controversial and Mayor Lee Brand used his veto power to bounce it from the budget.

Mayor Brand’s response

Brand said Friday he had reviewed the study but stopped short of saying he’d embrace Advance Peace.

“Although the results of this study are not definitive, they are promising,” he said in a statement. “Further research is needed to verify the best ways to reduce gun violence. We will continue to monitor these efforts and plot our future course accordingly.”

Asked about his own plans to reduce violence without Advance Peace, he said, “Solving a complex problem like gun violence requires patience and study before we commit our precious resources to a possible solution. It’s better to get it right instead of right now. Our community deserves nothing less.”

Advocates say they have a program that is working and can be even better if all of the elected officials would get behind it.

About Advance Peace

Advance Peace asks people in the program to come up with a goal, such as going to a trade school, and to reach benchmarks on the way. The men in the program meet or speak daily with the advocates running it.

If they make their goals in the first six months, they can potentially get a monthly stipend up to $1,000, which led to the program’s controversy in Fresno and other cities. Perhaps the advocates’ biggest hurdle is making sure its detractors don’t control the narrative.

Detractors can quickly try to torpedo benefits of the program by saying it is “paying them not to shoot,” according to the Rev. Trena Turner, who is executive director of Faith in the Valley.

The underprivileged areas of south Fresno are mostly made up of low-income communities of people of color, advocates noted. Those groups traditionally find it difficult to drum up political power.

“If there’s a slight chance that this would prevent the additional deaths then this is a worthy thing,” she said in a recent interview. “There are people in the city that will never be impacted one way or the other and are not close to the gun violence, but they will be the loudest voices that say for those suffering, ‘I don’t want it for them.’ “

Generally, in the cities already using the program, it is funded 50-50 by the city and a private fund. Taxpayer dollars are used to pay for the program and the private money goes toward the stipends, advocates say.

Possible stipend source

Faith in the Valley is already in talks with Brian Malte, executive director of the Hope and Heal Fund, which gets its money from a number of foundations like the California Endowment, Sierra Health Foundation and several more.

Malte told The Bee recently his organization works to expand programs that have proven results. The fund could help pay for the program in Fresno, he said, but would need taxpayer money, too.

Richmond, Stockton and Sacramento are all using the program.

Advocates also point to the program’s potential to save money by reducing shooting-related costs, like police overtime and emergency room visits. Lowering gun violence is also good for tourism and attracting business, they argue.

The approximate average cost for a single gun homicide in this country is $400,000, according to Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation and “Mother Jones.”

The program’s detractors have argued that Fresno needs more police on the street. Foster said adding police can’t fix all of the city’s ills.

“We have a strategy. Let’s use this one instead of waiting,” he said. “We can’t afford to wait.”

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Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he joined The Fresno Bee in 2019 after time in Merced and Los Banos.