Safer Streets Program Provides High-Risk Young People A Way Out
Published on March 17, 2023
Guest opinion submitted by Mayor Ben Walsh to The Post-Standard | Syracuse.com.
A young swimmer gets in trouble in deep water. They shouldn’t have been there in the first place, and now they know it. In despair, they wave their arms for assistance. From dry land, do we turn away or offer help?
Now envision that swimmer as a city youth trapped in an undertow of violence. Their family struggles in poverty. Their role models are engaged in gang and criminal activity. Fear and anxiety haunt them behind a façade of false bravado and, sometimes, acts of violence.
Many of these young people yearn for a way out. They’re ready to raise their hand for help. What do we do?
We have the capacity to pull them out. We can provide support they’ve never had; hold them accountable; and in the process, help break the cycle of gun violence that grips our city.
The Mayor’s Office to Reduce Gun Violence has completed a comprehensive assessment of Syracuse’s gun violence problem and is beginning implementation of its new Community Violence Intervention plan. It goes after the primary cause of gun violence in Syracuse: continuous social conflicts between gangs and groups of young people that spiral into shootings.
The Syracuse Safer Streets Community Violence Intervention program will reduce gun violence by providing peaceful conflict management, mentoring and case management, job training or educational opportunities, and cognitive behavioral therapy to the highest-risk individuals in the city.
If participants meet all program requirements, including zero tolerance for criminal behavior, these individuals receive a weekly conditional stipend of $100 or a financial incentive of equivalent value over the span of up to four months. Details on the program are at syr.gov/cvi-plan.
The approach is new to Syracuse but not untested. It is reducing gun violence in multiple cities:
- Conflict management and outreach have helped to prevent violent crime across the U.S. More than a dozen cases document the outcomes of this approach, with reductions in crime that go from 30% to 60%. Places with serious gun problems in New York City, Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, Kansas City and New Orleans.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy for at-risk individuals has been shown to cut reoffending by 25% and the most successful experiences go as far as 50%. It’s being used successfully in cities like Washington, D.C., Sacramento, Chicago, Boulder, and Atlanta.
- Economic incentives are smaller parts of these programs but create significantly greater reductions in gun violence when combined with therapy and conflict resolution. The Advance Peace program in Sacramento offered stipends and achieved a gun violence reduction of 18% citywide and 29% in targeted areas. Also, researchers found that the Rapid Employment and Development Initiative in Chicago reduced homicides and shootings arrests for those who entered the program by 64%.
Syracuse Safer Streets has been built with the input of violence interrupters who work in our city neighborhoods. To be clear: it will help those who walk away from gangs and will not provide incentives to anyone who engages in criminal activity. Break the law and you will be arrested and held accountable.
For decades, Syracuse has been trying to reduce gun violence. We crack down on gangs and have dedicated police units getting guns off the streets. Our neighborhood violence interrupters risk their lives responding to gunfire. We provide youth support and recreation programs. And, sadly, it has not been enough. We must do more.
The Syracuse Safer Streets program is a comprehensive new approach that experiments with an incentive for those willing to reject violence and do the hard work of changing their lives. It’s working in other places, and we can use it here to reduce conflict and finally begin turning back the rising tide of gun violence in Syracuse.