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Community organization marks major drop in Richmond homicides

Richmond marks major drop in homicides
Richmond marks major drop in homicides 02:34

RICHMOND -- Once considered the murder capital of America, the city of Richmond in Contra Costa County saw a record low in murders last year with a total of eight homicides.

While it's a community effort, the Office of Neighborhood Safety is getting praise for its work. The organization's founder once joked that you have to have a criminal record to work for ONS. Indeed, experience on the wrong side of the law does help ONS representatives relate with at-risk youth.

James Houston is a Richmond native who knows all about how life can change in a matter of seconds. In 1996, he shot and killed a man while trying to break up an argument. He was convicted of second-degree murder with a sentence of 18 years to life.

Now a free man, with a college degree he earned behind bars, he's getting a chance to save save others as program manager at Richmond's Office of Neighborhood Safety.

"Seeing myself in so many of the young people ... Pushing people away when I really wanted them to come closer to me but having to see if you really loved me or cared for me enough to fight for me," Houston said.

Each ONS employee checks in on kids who are on a list of at-risk youth every day. Those who stay out of trouble get an allowance which may be the most controversial part of the program.

"It's hard to focus on doing the right thing when I'm not eating or my brother or little sister is not eating. So, if you're able to really support them to where they don't have to go out and break in cars or sell drugs or other things to get money so they can relax and be a kid and do the things they need to do so they can have a future," Houston said.

While crime rates go up and down, ONS is credited for making a difference in its community. Houston says the program is working because of the kids.

He praised them saying, "My props to the young men and women in Richmond who chose to do something different. Who were willing to step out on a limb and accept support."

Currently, there are about 130 youth in the program. Houston said investing in ways to set up kids for success is key.

"I see the change it did for me. I see the change it does for young people. If you don't have an ONS or you don't have money to get one, start a one-man show or a one-woman show. Reaching out to the young people," Houston said.

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