- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2021

New York City is planning to pay at-risk youth to get a high school diploma or a driver’s license as part of a $1 million crime prevention program — and drawing criticism from a national law enforcement group.

In the program, young people at high risk of gun violence will be paired with mentors who help them set goals to reach within a year and a half, and be paid stipends for “career-driven accomplishments.”

When asked how much the stipend will be, an official in the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice said program organizers are “still in the process of rolling out the next steps.”

Betsy Brantner Smith, spokeswoman for the National Police Association, says youth mentoring programs “are always an excellent idea,” but the New York program “seems like a case of throwing good money after bad.”

“Providing a financial incentive to not commit gun crime is most assuredly a fanciful, unscientific ‘solution’ to a very specific problem,” she said. “Instead of stigmatizing and punishing a bad behavior, this program rewards a neutral behavior, and will undoubtedly be rife with fraud.”

New York City’s pilot program, announced in July, is modeled after Advance Peace, an anti-gun violence mentorship program created in 2010 that has been implemented in more than a dozen cities such as Stockton, California; Fort Worth, Texas; and St. Paul, Minnesota.

“This model incentivizes personal development and career driven goals, so gun violence is not only unnecessary but is out of [the] question,” said Andre T. Mitchell, co-founder of the New York City Crisis Management System, a public-private network of conflict mediation, education, employment and mental health counselors.

City data show there have been 1,041 shootings this year as of Aug. 29, compared to 989 during the same period in 2020. Last year ended with 97% more shootings than 2019, climbing from 777 to 1,531.

New York City has more than 8.4 million residents. The program will target one police precinct in each the city’s five boroughs — the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island.

Ms. Brantner Smith, a retired police sergeant, suggested that program officials should “keep the mentoring, but don’t reward inaction.”

Advance Peace founder DeVonne Boggan says the financial incentive is a “very, very small piece of what we do, however it’s magnified in the media.”

The $30,000 that cities typically spend on each at-risk youngster can save taxpayers millions of dollars, he said.

Mr. Boggan pointed to a study published in March by the University of California-Berkeley that focused on the impact of Advance Peace in the city of Stockton between 2018 to 2020.

The city of more than 309,000 residents typically spends about $962,000 on each shooting and $2.5 million on each fatal shooting, according to the study.

During the two-year period, Advance Peace recruited 34 young people and directly contributed to the interruption of 44 gun violence conflicts and mediation of more than 500 community conflicts that circumvented gun violence, according to the study.

“If each of the potential shootings Advance Peace workers stopped in Stockton resulted in an injury, the estimated city costs saved was $42.3 million,” the study surmised. “If those same conflicts instead led to homicides, tallied costs would have been $110 million.”

Fatal shootings decreased by 20% compared to the average rate five years earlier — falling from 43 in 2015 to 30 in 2020.

While the city of Stockton spent roughly $891,000 on the two-year program, taxpayers reportedly received between $47 to $123 in return, according to the study.

Mr. Boggan says he has “to remind folks, you’re already spending the resources, you’re just spending it after the carnage has already been done.”

• Emily Zantow can be reached at ezantow@washingtontimes.com.

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