City Readies to Pay Incentives to People at Risk of Committing Gun Violence
The Advance Peace model of mentoring and rewards for reaching life goals has been proven to work in other cities and is about to get its biggest test yet.
This article was produced in partnership with The Trace.
New York City will spend $1 million to pilot its version of a violence prevention program that provides participants with intensive mentorship and financial incentives for staying out of trouble, according to city officials familiar with the plans.
The program, known as Advance Peace, will launch in one precinct in each borough and pair fellows — young people deemed at risk for involvement in gun crime — with formerly incarcerated mentors. In cities that follow the model, fellows get paid a stipend of roughly $1,000 a month for staying in the program, as well as bonuses for meeting agreed-upon life goals like obtaining a driver’s license or GED.
The pilot is being administered by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, which oversees myriad anti-violence programs that have grown in response to a surge in gun violence.
K. Bain, executive director of the Queens-based violence prevention non-profit Community Capacity Development, is helping coordinate the effort with City Hall.
“This is what we do, getting resources directly into the hands of those most impacted and affected by violence,” Bain told reporters at a Safe Summer event outside the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday morning. “[The] Advance Peace model starts now in New York City.”
Bain added that mentors in the five boroughs will begin training this month, with plans to enroll fellows later in the fall. Memoranda of understanding have been signed with organizations in three of the five boroughs to implement the pilot: Penn & Perry in Staten Island; Man Up! Inc. in Brooklyn; and Street Corner Resources in Manhattan, according to Bain.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, also in attendance at the Tuesday event, added that the organizations would receive money this summer.
Williams and Mayor Bill de Blasio first announced their intention to bring Advance Peace to New York during a March press conference on the city’s pandemic recovery.
The program, they said, would be the centerpiece of an effort to combat a startling increase in shootings and fatalities: In 2020, murders reached a nine-year peak, and though the rise has shown signs of slowing this year, the city is still on pace to exceed last year’s totals.
“I’m very, very hopeful this would be something that has a profound impact, and we can prove its impact here and expand it,” de Blasio said at the time.
The mayor originally set a July deadline for the program’s rollout, but the month passed without note.
When asked to verify the new timeline proposed by Bain, Colby Hamilton, a spokesperson for the Office of Criminal Justice, said the office had “nothing new” to report, and maintained the city is “in the process of rolling out the next steps with program providers,” who will help get the model running in each borough.
Advance Peace was founded in Richmond, Calif., in 2010, as a division of that city’s Office of Neighborhood Safety. Though the program saw success early on, its use of stipends for participants discouraged adoption elsewhere, as critics scoffed at the idea of giving money to people for complying with the law.
In the 11 years since Advance Peace was founded, just four additional cities — Stockton, Fresno, and Sacramento in California, and Forth Worth, Texas — have embraced the program.
Early research suggests these cities made the right decision: An American Public Health Association report concluded that Advance Peace led to a nearly 45% decline in gun crime in Richmond between 2010 and 2017. A similar evaluation in Sacramento found the efforts contributed to a reduction in gun homicides and assaults by more than 20% in 2018 compared to an average of the previous four years.
New York City’s plan to bring Advance Peace to its boroughs has seen some hiccups.
According to DeVone Boggan, who founded and runs Advance Peace from its headquarters in Richmond, New York City will not fully implement the model, as de Blasio suggested it would. Rather, New York will adopt certain aspects of the program to enhance the city’s already active violence prevention apparatus.
Boggan told The Trace he only learned of the partnership when de Blasio announced it; he had not been consulted beforehand. Hamilton, of the Office of Criminal Justice, declined to comment.
Nevertheless, Boggan said he believes that the city is acting in good faith. He said his organization and the mayor’s office are working on an agreement that will see Advance Peace trainers providing technical support to outreach workers across the five boroughs as they incorporate — at minimum — elements of the program’s mentorship model and its payment scheme.
“Advance Peace will be sharing our science with these partners in a deep-end/instructive way,” Boggan wrote in an email, “and they...will determine what parts of it they want and/or need to add to their current system to achieve more optimal outcomes with regard to gun violence reduction.”
Building on ‘Cure Violence’
New York City currently runs the largest city-coordinated gun violence prevention effort in the country.
Organizations in the city’s Crisis Management System — a collaborative of 14 groups conducting violence interruption work in the five boroughs — follow the Cure Violence model of violence prevention. That involves sending out so-called credible messengers to intervene in brewing conflicts and redirect at-risk youth to social services. According to the Mayor’s Office, the new pilot program will be administered under this umbrella.
Like Cure Violence, Advance Peace enlists credible messengers to conduct outreach and violence interruption with at-risk youth.
Both systems incorporate mentorship, though they differ slightly: Advance Peace is typically organized around an intensive one-on-one mentoring and life planning program, which enrolls and graduates fellows on an 18-month cycle. Cure Violence follows a more traditional social services model, where outreach workers diffuse conflicts in real-time by referring people to service providers.
The primary distinction between the programs is Advance Peace’s payment incentive scheme.
Bain, whose organization contracts with the city as part of the Crisis Management System, told The Trace the city will incorporate incentive payments into its pilot.
“I [see] Advance Peace as an opportunity to put our money where our mouth is, investing in people who have been disinvested for generations,” he said.
Bain said that Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams, the overwhelming favorite to win this year’s mayoral election in November, has been briefed on the Advance Peace rollout plans and is supportive of the effort. Adams’ campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
‘Incentivize the Right Thing’
Meanwhile, violence interrupters currently working in the city say they are eager to add another tool to their kit, and to have more help on the way amid the surge in shootings.
Mike Perry, the director of Penn & Perry and program manager at True2Life, the only Cure Violence site on Staten Island, said True2Life is only designated to operate in a 14-block radius. That leaves a number of nearby neighborhoods “grossly neglected,” he said. Advance Peace, he added, would provide an exciting opportunity to expand that work.
“I love the incentives, to be able to reward high-risk people for doing the right thing,” Perry said. “With the Cure Violence money, we don’t have enough funds to do anything like that. But these young men and women need the money. Let’s just try to incentivize the right thing.”