Violence reduction fellowship programs, often referred to as the Peacemaker Fellowship®, are an intensive gun violence prevention strategy that originated in Richmond, California, and attempts to break the cycle of gun violence in disproportionately impacted communities. These fellowship programs use a combination of outreach worker observational data and city data to identify those most likely to commit violent offenses, but who have never been arrested. Participation is voluntary, and participants are provided with resources such as intensive mentoring, education access, skills development, social services, substance abuse treatment programs, counseling, job training, and access to positive social networks.1A.M. Wolf et al., “Process Evaluation for the Office of Neighborhood Safety,” National Council of Crime and Delinquency, 2015, http://bit.ly/31yySM9. After six months of program enrollment, participants can become eligible to receive a financial allowance.
A 2019 quasi-experimental evaluation of Richmond, California’s Operation Peacemaker program generated mixed results, as the program was associated with both a relatively large (43–55%) reduction in firearm homicides and assaults, and a relatively small (3–16%) increase in non-firearm homicides and assaults six years post intervention.2Ellicott C. Matthay et al., “Firearm and Nonfirearm Violence After Operation Peacemaker Fellowship in Richmond, California, 1996–2016,” American Journal of Public Health 109, no. 11 (2019): 1605–11, https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2019.305288. Participants have also reported improved access to services and higher quality of life.3Wolf et al., “Process Evaluation.”
Individual Operation Peacemaker Fellows have successfully achieved many of their development plan goals. These include personal achievements such as education attainment, full-time employment, improved self-esteem, and living a healthier lifestyle.
Successful violence reduction fellowship programs rely on a city and its impacted community’s ability to assist in the identification of participants, and for programmatic support for services provided to participants. In Richmond, California, the program began in the City Manager’s Office, and now is institutionalized as a distinct city department, which demonstrates the program’s value and the city’s commitment.
Cities should provide programs with a robust infrastructure to ensure effective implementation. This structure should be comprised of governmental agencies and community stakeholders, including but not limited to local community-based organizations, returning citizens and community health and public safety advocates.
A sustainable, multiyear source of public and private funding should also be established to ensure the program’s success. Public funding should cover staff compensation, training, evaluation, and equipment; programs have found that private funding is best used for travel, financial allowances, and the internship portion of the program.4Ellicott C. Matthay et al., “Association of the Operation Peacemaker Fellowship in Richmond, California with City-Level Firearm and Nonfirearm Homicide and Assault: A Quasi-Experimental Study,” Population Association of America Annual Meeting, 2019, accessed June 24, 2019, http://paa2019.populationassociation.org/uploads/190746.
The fellowship program staff should include a full-time program manager, full-time life coaches/outreach staff, and administrative personnel.
Strategy in Practice
Cities looking to adopt violence reduction fellowships can house their fellowship program within city government or within new or existing community-based infrastructure. Next, communities should review all available gun violence data to identify the people in the impacted neighborhoods who are at highest risk of shooting or being shot. Once potential participants have been identified and invited to join the program, the program’s life coaches/outreach workers should work with each participant to develop a uniquely tailored success plan. In Richmond, these are called “LifeMAPS.” These plans include short- and long-term goals with specific steps to achieve success. Life coaches/outreach workers will work on a full-time basis to ensure the success of participants and will track the progress of each fellow toward achieving the goals.
Your city should develop programming to fit the needs of your community and available resources. Though programming is different from city to city, one core feature of the fellowships is the financial allowance. The financial allowance can provide critical support to the Fellow as they navigate chaotic life experiences. In Richmond, California, allowances have ranged from $300 to $1,000 a month based on the participant’s progress in accomplishing LifeMAPS goals.5Wolf et al., “Process Evaluation.” Other programming to support the success of the participants includes cognitive behavioral therapy, restorative justice work, opportunities for travel, job training and internships, access to social services, peer and elder mentor programs, and more.
In addition to specific opportunities and resources, the program should also invest in continued data collection and review. Data documenting individual successes and achievements of fellows should be celebrated.
When dealing with funding, transparency is key. Investors want to know how and on whom money is spent; however, due to past life experiences, there is a need for anonymity for the fellows. This population is historically suspicious of law enforcement or government entities, and the purpose of the fellowship is to build trust with the participants in agreements of confidentiality and separation of government.6Ibid.
Outreach workers typically have a high turnover rate due to the emotional nature of their work. To support outreach workers and retain staff, staff need to have access to counseling services, self-care opportunities, stress reduction skills, group processing opportunities, and a livable and supportive compensation package, including comprehensive benefits and retirement security.7Ibid.
The use of public funds to support violence reduction fellowships may be an obstacle, as many cities and citizens will want assurances that public funds will support programming but not allowances. It is important that advocates have a clear understanding of the different programmatic and preventive elements of the program and their unique support mechanisms.
Agencies, Organizations, and Other Necessary Partners
While the participating fellow is navigating the social service system, it is important that their life coach/outreach worker stay with them while they complete enrollment paperwork, provide them with onsite support, and make sure they are comfortable in their new setting. Some of the services include life skills training, anger management, financial management, employment services, health care services, mental health services, educational services, and recreational, parenting, substance abuse and housing services.8Ibid.
Newsroom & Resources
Operation Peacemaker/The Peacemaker Fellowship®
Operation Peacemaker/The Peacemaker Fellowship® is the brainchild of DeVone Boggan, former Neighborhood Safety Director and Director of the Office of Neighborhood Safety [ONS] for the City of Richmond, California. The ONS was created in 2007 as a non-law enforcement agency inside city government charged with reducing firearm assaults and associated injury and death. The first 18-month Fellowship cohort (Richmond, CA) started in June of 2010 after the city experienced 45 homicides, a rate of 45.9% per 100,000 residents, compared to California’s 5.4% per 100,000 in the same year. It was listed as one of the most dangerous cities in the country. The fellowship was created to heal and transform mindsets that give rise to destructive behaviors.
Communities considering ‘Violence Reduction Fellowships’ should contact Advance Peace, an organization that is dedicated to the replication of this model.
Firearm and Nonfirearm Violence After Operation Peacemaker Fellowship in Richmond, California, 1996–2016
Researchers at the University of California applied a quasi-experimental research design to 20 years of crime and health data, to study the effects of Operation Peacemaker in Richmond, CA. Program implementation was associated with: 55% reduction in firearm homicides, 43% reduction in firearm assaults, 16% increase in non-firearm homicides, and 3% increase in non-firearm assaults (non-firearm results were notably less conclusive).