By Lloyd Madden
At 5 p.m. every Wednesday, they file into to the Richmond City Council Chamber for a one-hour gathering hosted by Vice Mayor Corky Boozé.
The first five minutes are devoted to communication with family members serving time in state prison.
And everybody chips in $2, not unlike the passing of the church basket.
“It goes to get a kid out to a game or other event, or we send it to prison for a relative without any money on account,” Boozé said of the weekly collection.
Welcome to crime-fighting Richmond-style. During a period when homicide has been on a worrisome rise in Bay Area urban centers, Richmond—once ranked as one of California’s most dangerous cities—has been headed in the opposite direction.
Back in 2005, the city of about 100,000 people recorded 35 killings, about one every 10 days on average, with more than half those killed being African-American boys and men in their early 20s.
By last year, Richmond had cut the annual number to 18, still a lot for a city of its size, but a dramatic improvement. Now, with the first quarter of 2013 at a close, there have been three killings, the latest the March 14 shooting death of a 34-year-old San Pablo man outside the Richmond BART station.
While nobody associated with the city’s response to violent crime is claiming victory, the Richmond approach is garnering more and more attention from the media, criminologists and others.
The Richmond way is aggressive community and neighborhood-focused outreach, both governmental and nongovernmental. The common trait: engagement not just at the neighborhood level but with former perpetrators of gun violence themselves and those affiliated with them.
In 2006, the city hired a new police chief, Chris Magnus, from Fargo, N.D. He revamped the Richmond Police Department from top to bottom, making officers and their supervisors accountable for reducing crime as well as blight in their geographic zones.
The city also added 50 more officers, while elsewhere in the Bay Area forces have been reduced. And the chief made greater use of data and technology to sharpen deployment of scarce resources.
In 2007, Richmond launched the Office of Neighborhood Safety, a city department whose mission is to identify and work directly with young people known to be responsible for most of the gun violence.
Its most controversial program is a fellowship in which those enrolled earn up to $500 a month as incentive pay to steer clear of violence and attain goals, ranging from getting a GED, going through drug treatment, or participating in job training.
“We don’t focus on hot spots, we focus on hot people,” said DeVone Boggan, the Office of Neighborhood Safety Director.
But there also have been multiple community-based responses with organic beginnings. Some have been faith-based, others not.
Operation Richmond is a faith-based, collaborative organization that seeks to unite communities across boundaries, and advocate for disenfranchised and economically challenged people.
It was founded in response to the high incidence of violent crimes in Richmond, notably the tragic shooting that took place during a worship service at New Gethsemane Church on Feb. 14, 2010.
Launched through the vision of Bishop J.W. Macklin of the Glad Tidings Church of God in Christ, it is now led by Pastor Henry Washington of The Garden of Peace Ministries in Richmond, who serves as its executive director.
Operation Richmond is moving forward to bring about a cease-fire and change in Richmond. “Much has been accomplished through collaborative efforts,” said Washington, “But we still have far to go.”
The latest addition to the landscape is One Richmond, the brainchild of Boozé and Pam Bilbo, president of Men and Women of Valor, established with the assistance of Lori Reese-Brown, of City Manager Bill Lindsay’s office.
“People doing the shooting are now part of the group,” said Boozé. “They came in and now they are doing the work.”
One Richmond serves as a bridge for ex-cons and their families between prison and Richmond civil life.
“The message is nonviolence,” said Boozé. “Stop shooting people when you get out.”
One Richmond’s other focus is heading off trouble before it starts and giving young people alternatives to turf battles.
“We go to all of the middle school and high school basketball and football games to diffuse rivalries,” said Boozé.
One of the group’s closest calls, the vice mayor remembered, was at a Richmond High School dance early this school year. “A shot gun was taken and potential bloodshed avoided, without the involvement of Richmond PD.”
Boozé said One Richmond will soon start meeting and working out the old YMCA building in North Richmond.
“I’m going to get a building of their own built for them someday, a place to sit down and talk and have an employment center,” he said.