RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — More than 14 months after Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and then-Police Chief Gerald Smith publicly announced the hiring of so-called violence interrupters, the mayor provided an update on the program and its timeline.

On Tuesday, April 18, Mayor Stoney joined Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin Tuesday for a news conference on proposed investments for victim and witness services in the fiscal year 2024 city budget.

During the news conference, two workers with the department spoke about the challenges of handling the fallout from an average of 72 homicides per year over the past three fiscal years — and the hundreds of loved ones who have been impacted.

“The Richmond Victim/Witness Services program provided victim advocacy to each surviving homicide family member. We contacted them after each homicide, provided referral assistance with burial expenses, accompanied them to court hearings and acted as a liaison between the police department and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office,” Sharron Saunders said. “We have many, many members. Unfortunately, it continues to grow.”

McEachin said that part of preventing violent crime in the City of Richmond involves addressing potential issues before they happen. Similar to the previously-announced violence interrupters, McEachin and Stoney shared information about so-called community circle keepers, 12 of whom have already been hired, according to the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

“Thanks to funding from the feds, and now from the mayor’s budget, we are able to pay those community circle keepers a stipend so that they can go out in the community, remain in the community, to have their ear to the ground when it seems like something may pop off and, hopefully, get in there and address it through restorative justice before law enforcement is involved,” McEachin said.

That funding from the mayor’s budget was a reference to the proposed $100,000 for fiscal year 2024 to support the city’s victim and witness services. Budget conversations are ongoing.

“When you think about — and I’ve stated it many times before — us throwing the kitchen sink at this gun violence issue in our city, well, this is what it looks like,” Stoney said. “It’s the full spectrum. You’re going to have prevention and intervention, but also you have to have the services for victims and for those who are survivors of such crimes as well.”

When asked whether the community circle keepers program had evolved from the originally-proposed idea of violence interrupters, the mayor said that the two were separate.

“They’ve all been hired. They’re obviously doing some training because this is some serious work that they’re dealing with,” Stoney said. “I believe they have a supervisor hired on board, as well, and so, before you, you know, in the coming weeks, in the coming months, you’ll see them, obviously, working in the community. Obviously, I can’t tell you where exactly, but they’re going to be involved in the prevention intervention front.”

Questions about how many violence interrupters have been hired, how often they are meeting and being trained, and the level of involvement from the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office remain unanswered.

“We want to make sure if violence does occur, that it stops there; it doesn’t spread to other areas; there isn’t retaliation,” the mayor said. “We don’t want these incidents to be in need of these services in the future, right? That’s why we have intervention and prevention to sort of stem that violence right then and there.”

In April of 2022, City Hall put out an official notice to hire three violence interrupters. The deadline for applications was set to close on April 20 of that year. By June of last year, the police department cited ongoing background checks as the reason for the delay. Then, at the end of December of 2022, a job opening was listed on the city government’s website for a violence interrupter, but the position has since been removed.

“We’ve hired a supervisor and we have had interviews very recently,” Interim Chief Rick Edwards told 8News the week the position was posted in December. “We hope to bring more people on board.”