Department of Justice Grant Could Put Ex-gang Members to Work Stopping Violence
November 2, 2012
Salinas—alongside major cities like Chicago and Detroit—has been awarded a federal grant to implement a program that may use former gang members to mediate street violence.
City officials announced the $500,000 Department of Justice grant at a press conference Nov. 1 at the Salinas City Hall Rotunda.
The program, called Project Safe Neighborhoods, aims to reduce crime by employing people of a special skill set— like former gang members— to be “violence interrupters." These crime stoppers will build street cred with gang members and leaders, as well as their families and friends, to try to stem retaliatory violence over shootings, territorial rivalries, and other conflicts.
The use of violence interrupters has made a significant impact in cities like Boston, Chicago, Brooklyn, and Baltimore, says U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag.
The two-year Project Safe Neighborhoods program will be administered by nonprofit Second Chance Family and Youth Services.
Second Chance is in the planning stages now, and is looking to hire four violence interrupters. The program should be up and running by early next year, says the nonprofit's executive director Brian Contreras.
Salinas was one of 13 cities awarded the safe neighborhoods grant, and the only one in California. Chicago, Cincinnati, and Detroit, the three other cities that received major $500,000 grants, have far larger populations than Salinas.
"When you look at the violent crime per capita, we're competing with the big cities," says Commander Dave Shaw of the Salinas Police Department.
There have been 18 homicides in the city this year.
Police Chief Kelly McMillan said Salinas could be a model for how other mid-size cities can implement the program. The chief made clear the safe neighborhoods program is not a law enforcement program, and that violence interrupters will not work for, or report to, police.
Rather, the violence interrupters will establish themselves in communities and be a "voice of reason."