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N.Y. program plans to pay up to $200 a week to gang members who avoid violent crime

The pilot program includes mentoring, job training, conflict resolution between rival gang members and therapy


Syracuse Police investigate a double homicide on 3101 Burnet Ave in the Eastwood neighborhood Aug 24, 2022.

Dennis Nett

By Marnie Eisenstadt

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — A new program aimed at reducing the city’s gun violence wants to pay gang members to stay out of trouble.

The Community Violence Interruption Policy, a pilot program proposed by Mayor Ben Walsh’s Office to Reduce Gun Violence, plans to pay between $100 and $200 a week to gang members who agree to participate. The payments are aimed at helping the gang members with basic expenses, but they only get the money if they avoid violent criminal behavior.

The cash is a small part of the program, which will serve 50 young people at first. It also includes mentoring, job training, conflict resolution between rival gang members and therapy, according to an outline of the plan by the Mayor’s Office to Reduce Gun Violence.

The mayor’s office is planning to ask Common Councilors for $1 million to fund the effort, which will be a pilot program.

The report on the plan offers some of the first concrete data about the role gangs play in Syracuse’s violent crimes: More than half of the 50 homicides in the past two years were gang-related, according to the report.

For the past decade, more than a third of the homicides were gang-related.

The report also puts a number on the size of Syracuse’s gang problem, saying that the pilot program will serve 50 people, or about 4% of the 1,250 gang members in the city.

The report also said the city has identified 11 specific areas where gun violence is worst in the city. It did not include the specific locations, but said all of them share some of the same problems: overgrown vegetation, blighted properties, dim or nonexistent street lights and people dealing with unaddressed trauma.

The report stresses that the program is only a pilot and won’t be expanded if it’s not successful, pointing out that several organizations have been working diligently to reduce gun violence, but it’s been hard to move the needle.

“... despite different interventions ... the city’s average number of homicides per year rose by 31% over the last decade,” the plan states.

The city’s rate of youth charged in homicides is also one of the highest in the nation.

Much of the work for the new effort will be done by groups that have already been working with teens and young men in the city, including the Good Life Foundation, the Salvation Army and the Street Addiction Institute.

Lateef Johnson-Kinsey, head of the Office for Gun Violence Reduction, has been meeting for months with community groups and nonprofits, working on the plan. In an interview about the program earlier this year, he said his office has found that the gangs are not fighting about drugs or money, but personal disputes and feuds that began before some of them were born.

“It’s all about conflict,” Johnson-Kinsey said.

[RELATED: Managing gangs in schools: Prevention strategies]

Much of the plan revolves around using people who are known and trusted by the gang members. Syracuse Police Chief Joe Cecile said this model has been effective in the schools, and he expects it will be just as useful in neighborhoods.

“They have much more influence than anyone else,” Cecile said. He pointed to people like Timothy “Noble” Jennings-Bey of the Street Addiction Institute. “I can walk over there and talk to somebody, they’re not going to listen to me. But he can walk over there and talk to them, one on one, about alternatives other than pulling a gun.”

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