RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Nearly one year after Mayor Levar Stoney and Richmond City Council members declared gun violence a public health crisis in the city, local leaders met on Tuesday to finalize their Gun Violence Prevention report.

Stoney said that conversations regarding this report had been in the works since 2018. Tuesday was the culmination of that work, introducing a framework to address gun violence prevention and intervention in Richmond.

“It does incorporate many of the things I’ve already announced,” the mayor said. “But we took a lot of community feedback, there was a lot of evidence-based research that was done, as well.”

As part of the formal public health crisis declaration, the mayor partnered with members of the Richmond community, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), VCU Health System (VCUHS) and Richmond City Health District (RCHD) to collaborate and present recommendations to address gun violence moving forward.

Local leaders met on Tuesday to finalize their Gun Violence Prevention report.

The framework released Tuesday includes several initiatives already in place, as well as additional recommendations to work toward saving lives in the city:

Establish a fund to support youth violence prevention programs partnering with community-based organizations

According to the Gun Violence Prevention report, the City of Richmond will allocate $1 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money to establish a “Positive Youth Development and Youth Violence Prevention Fund.” NextUp RVA, a free program for Richmond Public Schools (RPS) students, will reportedly serve as the city’s fiscal agent to disperse funds to community and grassroots organizations to support accessible out-of-school time programming; parenting supports; mental, behavioral and socio-emotional supports for youth; academic enrichment opportunities for youth; and mentorship opportunities for youth. The program will also work on training and technical assistance for community organizations.

Expand access to childcare and preschool

According to the report, $1 million will be invested in the stabilization and expansion of high-quality childcare and preschool across the City of Richmond. It also noted that $500,000 will be made available to eligible nonprofit and charitable organizations through direct grants from the Office of Children and Families; an additional $500,000 will be disbursed by Smart Beginnings of Greater Richmond in order to support private businesses like family day homes that offer these services, but are ineligible for grants from the city. This could apply to tuition subsidies, talent acquisition, professional development, hiring bonuses, retention bonuses, school supplies, furniture and classroom renovations.

Establish the groundwork for Universal Pre-K

City leaders said that $200,000 of ARPA funds will be dedicated to research and personnel deemed necessary to address systemic barriers to the universalization of preschool for all 3- and 4-year-old children in Richmond. According to the report released Tuesday, research will include a community survey, as well as a cost modeling and financing strategies study.

Support home visiting programs

Community and city leaders involved in a roundtable discussion Tuesday on the release of the Gun Violence Prevention report stated that home visiting is a proven family-strengthening strategy, where programs partner with parents to support healthy family functioning and positive parenting. The City of Richmond will reportedly invest $200,000 into the expansion of Family Lifeline’s Children’s Health Involving Parents (CHIP) program. Through this program, families of young children will receive two to four visits each month. Each visit will last approximately an hour, and typically occur in a family’s home.

Continue to fund the “We Matter RVA” program

In 2021, the City of Richmond received $500,000 from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) to pilot a new approach to youth gun violence prevention. “We Matter RVA” is focused in communities that are most impacted by gun violence in Richmond. According to the report, “We Matter RVA” creates a partnership among RPS, Communities In Schools, the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities (PRCF) and mental health providers to support participants. Currently, the program includes 40 middle school students selected from River City and Martin Luther King, Jr. middle schools. Most participating youth are in 7th grade, with the expectation that they’ll continue with the program until they complete middle school in June of 2023.

Continue to Expand the Impact of the Community Ambassador Program

Using $500,000 of ARPA funds, the city is planning to expand the number of community ambassadors and the resources available to them to ensure greater community reach and impact. These ambassadors will be tasked with coordinating their efforts with the Human Services team, including the Community Safety Coordinator, to ensure Richmonders in need are being quickly connected to resources.

Continue to support youth-focused workforce development through the Office of Community Wealth Building (OCWB)

According to the report released Tuesday, the Richmond OCWB was the first in the nation and is a Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health Prize Winner. Using ARPA funding, the OCWB will invest dollars specifically for youth employment and workforce opportunities.

Establish the first City of Richmond Children’s Fund

In Mayor Stoney’s FY2023 budget, he proposed $500,000 to establish a Children’s Fund that city officials said will allow them to be responsive to the post-pandemic landscape of out-of-school time. This includes afterschool and summer programs, youth employment opportunities, as well as early childhood. The fund is meant to supplement existing non-departmental investments, and help the city address unexpected needs that might otherwise prevent Richmond from serving as many of its children as possible.

Hospital-based intervention

The VCU Health Injury and Violence Prevention Program (IVPP) exists to reduce and prevent injuries through ongoing education, training, research and community outreach throughout Central Virginia. According to the report released Tuesday, IVPP, which has been providing services since 2007, has several programs to respond to and help the City of Richmond with violence. The program’s goals are to coordinate and develop injury and violence prevention programs and activities throughout the healthcare system and community; prevent injuries and violence through the implementation of evidence-based programs and the development of resources targeting populations that experience trauma; and to serve as a leader for injury and violence prevention on the local, regional, national and international level.

Violence Interrupters

The City of Richmond will employ three violence interrupters and one violence interrupter manager, who will be hired using Richmond Police Department (RPD) resources, but work alongside Human Services staff. Violence interrupters are meant to be credible messengers — people who are from the communities they serve and who have similar experiences to those who are committing acts of violence.

Gun Violence Prevention Framework 2022

Law enforcement intervention

According to the Gun Violence Prevention report, in 2021 alone, RPD removed 947 illegal guns off the city’s streets. In the first months of 2022, officers removed 314 illegal guns. Based on the types of incidents in Richmond, RPD found that three factors play a significant role in the increase in gun violence: the ready accessibility of firearms, social media’s ability to exacerbate conflicts, and mental health.

RPD Chief Gerald Smith, in attendance at Tuesday’s roundtable, noted that the department will work with the community to address gun violence in the city, but that the issue cannot be solved by law enforcement alone.

“Like a wagon wheel being stuck in the mud,” Smith said. “The police department pushes and the mental health pulls, we may be able to get out of this; school system pushes, human services actually does some pulling, maybe we get this wheel going and moving and making some progress.”

Noted in the framework is RPD’s work to improve officer recruitment efforts, following reports of staffing shortages. When asked about this issue, Chief Smith said that having more officers working for RPD does impact law enforcement’s ability to curtail gun violence in the city. But he also noted that current officers with the department are working hard to keep Richmond safe.

“Our men and woman are doing great work. They’re doing great jobs and putting their long hours in, and hopefully we’ll start seeing some improvement with our staffing as we go along,” Smith said. “The men and women who have been here for the last few years, they’re the picture of resiliency.”

The FY2023 budget also details the increase of RPD officer salaries to ensure they are competitive with those in the region.

The Gun Violence Prevention report further noted efforts of RPD to deepen its work by holding town halls across the city to engage residents and commit to strategic community policing, based on the unique needs of specific neighborhoods, as well as the mayor’s previously announced gun buyback program, using $500,000 of ARPA funds.

Make investments in RPS

Introduced in the proposed FY2023 budget for RPS, the Stoney Administration has increased the school division’s budget by $51 million — or 33% — since 2017. According to the report released Tuesday, city officials understand how critical it is to put Richmond’s children first, and remain committed to that effort by making historic investments in RPS.

Support the expansion of community center access and partnerships

Using $78 million of ARPA funds, the City plans to build or refurbish four community centers in qualifying census tracks. These centers include the Calhoun Center, Southside Community Center, TB Smith Community Center and Church Hill Community Center. The goal is that each of these locations will include state-of-the-art recreation and community facilities in the center of neighborhoods, provide afterschool and summer programming for youth, serve as host sites for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food programs, and include adult and senior programming for surrounding residents.

Establish a Community Resource Center at City Hall

Using a recommendation from the Homelessness Advisory Council, in 2022, Richmond is set to complete the construction of a Community Resource Center on the first floor of City Hall. This walk-in center will serve city residents, whether housed or experiencing a housing crisis, to ensure they are connected with triage, case management, and mainstream resources and services to meet their needs.

Fund workforce development opportunities out of the OCWB

The City of Richmond announced that it will use $1 million of ARPA, divided equally four ways, to support both youth and adult workforce initiatives through the OCWB:

  • For a new Returning Citizen Guaranteed Income Pilot
  • For workforce development/employment services for 18-24-year-olds
  • To expand the Mayor’s Youth Academy
  • For skills and trades development programming.

Establish the first-ever Health Equity Trust Fund

The City plans to use $5 million in ARPA funds to partner with the Richmond City Health District and establish the first-ever Health Equity Trust Fund, which will work to address documented health inequities in Richmond with priority areas in:

  • COVID-19
  • Substance Use and Treatment
  • Mental and Behavioral Health
  • Access to care and Health/Wellness Education
  • Maternal and Child Health
  • Chronic Disease and Underlying Conditions
  • Food Security

Enhance non-departmental support for safety net providers and youth mental health

Stoney increased funding in his proposed 2023 budget for local safety net providers such as Daily Planet, and organizations supporting work that improves youth mental health, such as ChildSavers.

Ensure equitable mobility

Most recently, the Central Virginia Transportation Authority set aside $113 million for the creation of the Fall Line Trail, a multi-use bicycling and walking trail connecting Ashland to Petersburg, which will go right through the City of Richmond, increasing the community’s opportunity to get outside and encouraging economic activity.

Invest in affordable and quality housing, and divert evictions

Using ARPA funds to push things along, Richmond committed $10 million per year to affordable housing projects, forever. In addition, the City’s code enforcement team was given new tools and revitalized to ensure housing and safety issues are addressed using a checks and balances, cross-department approach. The City said research shows access to stable, quality housing, revitalization of vacant lots, and handling of abandoned property reduces the presence of gun violence.

Expand access to green space

After announcing the addition of five new park spaces in South Richmond in 2020, the City plans to continue adding spaces such as parks, community gardens and playing fields in the area with $13.5 million in ARPA funds going towards nature trails and new green spaces.

Invest in infrastructure improvements

Using a combination of city dollars and money from the Central Virginia Transportation Authority, the City has been able to steadily allocate more funding to the streets, and concentrate on areas that have not been resurfaced in over 20 years, including:

  • Invested $1,570,000 in new sidewalks, and $2,100,000 in sidewalk repairs
  • Repaired/Replaced 472.9 miles of alleys
  • Established 55 new miles of bike lanes
  • Installed 357 streetlights, which are undergoing a conversion process to LED
  • Provided over 2,000 Vision Zero enhancements, such as crosswalks
  • Allocated $2 million in ARPA funds for enhanced street lights and security cameras

Promote economic empowerment through equitable economic development

The City plans to make progress toward erasing the long-standing racial disparities in education, housing, and health with the introduction of its Strategic Plan for Economic Development (SPEED). The CIty believes the most direct path to achieving those goals is to make Richmond more competitive for investment and jobs, more specifically by prioritizing neighborhoods that have not experienced comparable economic opportunity, historically. The City currently has three projects utilizing that framework: the Casino in Southside, City Center in Downtown and the Diamond District along Arthur Ashe Boulevard.

While some of these programs were previously announced, Mayor Stoney noted Tuesday that this is the first time such a framework has been established in the City of Richmond.

According to Richmond crime data as of April 24, 2022, there have been three fewer homicides this year, as compared with last year, during which Richmond saw its highest number of homicides in 15 years. However, of the 20 homicides during this period in 2021, 80% used firearms; of the 17 homicides during this period in 2022, 88% used firearms. Data also showed that business robberies are up 11% in the city, and those in which a firearm was used are up 30% when compared to last year.

“We have a number of initiatives and strategies in place to start today,” Stoney said. “This is a living document. So [I’m] not saying at all the approaches and strategies in this document are going to work overnight and be successful, but boy, this is further along than we’ve ever been before.”

Community, city and state leaders said that the goal would be to establish this framework now so that its effects play out in reducing gun violence throughout Richmond for years to come.