CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA)– Champaign City Council is poised to adopt its most comprehensive, and most expensive, plan yet to curb gun violence.
We’ve reported about the new $6.2 million plan, called the “Community Gun Violence Reduction Blueprint.”
However, investing in early intervention and restoration of under-served communities as a way to reduce crime is not new. In fact, the plan was tailored after two out-of-state programs with a successful track record.
We took some time to learn about those to get an idea of what’s to come in Champaign and the lessons other cities learned along the way.
First, we sat down for a virtual interview with Sam Vaughn in Richmond, CA. Vaughn is the program manager in the city’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and he’s at the helm of “Operation Peacemaker Fellowship.”
“I believe it can work in any city if the intentions are pure,” he said.
While gun violence rose across the country last year, Richmond saw a decline. But that success didn’t come right away. Discussions started more than 15 years ago, back in 2006.
“It was a really tough year and the community was kind of in uproar,” Vaughn shared. “80+ percent of all shooting victims were African American, late teens, early 20s.”
It’s what we are seeing in Champaign right now. In the blueprint, the city reported those most impacted by – and most likely to be involved in – gun violence are young Black and African American men and teens between 15 and 30.
In Richmond, the most impacted are exactly who they’re recruiting into the fellowship, providing one-on-one mentorship and access to basic necessities.
“The young people who may be creating these statistics are not the enemy, they’re not the devil. They’re not evil,” Vaughn emphasized.
Vaughn grew up in Richmond. He spent time in prison for a gun-related crime and said, something like this fellowship could’ve changed his course sooner.
“So if you don’t look at them as an asset and acknowledge that we will never solve this problem without partnering with them, the process will fail,” he said, referring to the fellows.
The City of Richmond learned a tough resources lesson early on. It became the first city to create an Office of Violence Prevention, according to Vaughn. That was in 2006 and immediately, homicides dropped. However, about two years in, he said city staff was stretched too thin and gun violence skyrocketed once again.
A few years later, they recruited more help and Operation Peacemaker Fellowship was born. By 2014, gun-related homicides dropped by more than 30 percent.
“If you go and invest in this and expect within one year for everything to turn around, you’re misleading the public, you’ve wasted resources and you’re not going to last,” Vaughn continued. “Which means you kind of gave a community hope and then took it right back from, which is a shame.”
Champaign is still grappling with how it’ll pay for the blueprint beyond two years of federal COVID-19 money.
That’s one of the main differences between the California and Champaign programs.
Richmond’s fellowship is paid for through grants, totaling around $4.2 million this year, whereas Champaign is looking at using American Rescue Plan money, but that discussion is ongoing.
Over in Oakland, California, Damita Davis-Howard runs a similar program. The “Oakland Ceasefire Strategy.”
The city covers part of the cost, and then other organizations involved also chip in.
“It is working,” Davis-Howard told us.
Since the start of the ceasefire strategy in 2012, she said the city has seen its longest continuous decline in gun violence in 40 years. Similar to Champaign’s plan, it relies on partnerships.
“Saving lives, keeping people out of jail and trying to improve the community and police relationships, those are the three main goals,” Davis Howard concluded.
Champaign city officials said the blueprint should be presented to Council for formal adoption in early February.