RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The city of Richmond is announcing new measures to fight gun violence, including hiring so-called “violence interrupters.”
Since Mayor Levar Stoney declared gun violence a public health crisis in May of last year, the number of homicides only increased, and at a faster rate. 2021 ended with the most homicides in more than 15 years
So far this year, the number of homicides matches that of this time last year, with three homicides city-wide.
“We need a strong, coordinated, community effort to turn things around,” said Reggie Gordon, head of Richmond’s Human Services division.
“The solution that’s right for Richmond relies on a holistic, community based approach,” Stoney said.
Among the city’s new efforts to reduce the number of lives lost by gun violence is the hiring of so-called “violence interruptors.” These are people who RPD Chief Gerald Smith said will serve as mediators between groups at risk of getting violent with each other.
“These individuals will be from the streets. There’s no other way to put it,” Smith said. “These people will come with some baggage. They will come with history. They will come with experience and connections to the community that we don’t have.”
According to Smith, four positions are open and each offers a range of $31,000-$46,000 per year.
The city is also hiring RVA native, Samuel Brown. He will be a non-RPD employee solely focused on reducing gun violence. Gordon called him the city’s “point person” for all issues related to gun violence.
“A city employee who is making sure that we take action,” Gordon said.
After the news conference Thursday, 8News tried to ask Brown what his first steps will be. We were turned away by a city spokesperson who said Brown won’t answer questions because he just started on the job. The spokesperson said Brown started two weeks ago.
In the past, Chief Smith has said that if RPD had more officers, more resources could be dedicated in areas he knows could help curb gun violence. 8News asked what he’s specifically doing to recruit and retain officers this year. According to RPD public affairs, the department is still down more than 130 officers.
“Recruitment efforts and incentives will be an a la cart, per say, for the candidate. They can actually pick and choose what incentivizes them to come,” Smith said. As far as salary goes, Smith said he’s hoping for a new pay scale “soon.”
The city is also partnering with local non-profit “Next up”, who they say will be distributing $1 million in community grants. The grants will help support after-school programs and mental health support for kids.
“Communities benefit when children and their families have access to quality programs right in their neighborhoods,” said Barbara Sipe, President and CEO of NextUp. “Richmond has so many amazing providers and programs doing exceptional work, and NextUp looks forward to increasing access to important programs that build community strength and socio-emotional wellness for our youth.”
In addition to these efforts, the city highlighted the $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding targeted specifically for gun violence prevention. According to a news release from a city spokesperson, other investments include:
· $2M in ARPA for childcare and parental support
· $1.5M in ARPA for initiatives out of the Office of Community Wealth Building
· $ 500,000 to the Richmond City Health District for the establishment of a trauma response network
· $300,000 from the Gang Violence Assessment grant from DCJS
· $500,000 from DCJS for ”We Matter RVA” program
8News initially reported $65,000 as the salary for the open positions, as stated by the Chief on Thursday. A city spokesperson later corrected the chief’s statement saying positions will range from $49,000-$68,000 a year. The next day, the Richmond Police Department issued another correction saying pay would be $31,000-$46,000 a year.