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Anti-Crime Program Uses Support, Cash To Reduce Gun Violence

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RICHMOND, CA. (CBSMiami) -- Gun violence is a way of life in hundreds of neighborhoods across the country. It's becoming so common that sometimes these shootings don't even make the evening news anymore.

Here at CBS4 News, we wanted to dig deeper.  CBS4 Anchor Rudabeh Shahbazi traveled to what was once one of the most dangerous cities in America, Richmond, California; which is just outside of San Francisco, to learn about Operation Peacemaker. It's a program focused on the community's most lethal young men. The plan is to mentor them, train them and pay them -- NOT to shoot.

"The story of gun violence here in Richmond and across this country, is a story of young men who have very limited choices and they're doing terrible things to one another," explained DeVone Boggan, Founding Director of the Office of Neighborhood Safety.

The Office of Neighborhood Safety is a very different kind of city department. It's tasked with eradicating gun violence.

First, Boggan formed a team of street outreach workers, known as "neighborhood change agents." The number one requirement for this job is a criminal history of gun violence.

"These are our people who we know and trust from being within our community, from being into the world that we're in, so they're speaking from going through it," said Office of Neighborhood Safety Ambassador LaVon Carter.

From both law enforcement and street sources, Boggan and his team came up with a list of 28 people, believed to be responsible for 70-percent of the city's gunfire. Boggan set out to transform these men through a fellowship, called "Operation Peacemaker." At the core of his plan; mentoring, life skills training, therapy, travel and most controversially, up to one thousand dollars a month, NOT to shoot.

"They may not deserve it, but they need it, more than any other kid in the community and those other kids in the community, need for him to get it, if they're going to have a legitimate shot of reaching their full potential, and living without fear," explained Boggan.

The operational costs of the program are funded by taxpayers. The stipends come from donations and it seems to be working.

The city of Richmond has a wall covered with butterflies which represent homicide victims. In 2007, there were 47 homicides but by 2014, it was down to only 11.

"I'm extremely proud of that. It shows that we learning a different way besides killing each other to work out our differences," said Carter.

Captain Mark Gagan with the Richmond Police Department admits the neighborhood change agents have been able to reach their shooters in a way law enforcement never could.

"We're on one side of the yellow tape doing our investigation, and they're on the other side with the victim's family, witnesses, and even people capable of committing a retaliatory shooting, and I know that they are preaching nonviolence," said Capt. Gagan.

Several cities around the country have looked into adopting the strategy.

Here in South Florida, Morris Copeland, the Director of the Miami-Dade Department of Juvenile Services says while there is an emphasis on social services and employment, the county focuses on prevention and has not entertained the possibility of paying offenders to stay out of trouble.

"My position is to look at what's out there, see if it fits our community, because one size does not fit all," said Copeland. "I can't sit in judgement of what they do, but I know that we're always looking for best practices, and if those things fit our community, we're definitely interested in looking at them."

Though their approaches are different, Copeland and Boggan agree that mentoring matters.

"One of the most powerful things a mentor can do, is to believe in you, to trust you, to see your future when you can't see a future for yourself," said Boggan.

DeVone Boggan has since stepped down from his position at the Office of Neighborhood Safety, although he does remain active in Operation Peacemaker. He's now started his own non-governmental organization, Advance Peace, dedicated to ending urban gun violence.

For more on Operation Peacemaker and to watch Rudabeh Shahbazi's Special, CLICK HERE. 

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