HOPEWELL, Va. (WRIC) — After a year plagued with violent crime, Hopewell is looking to see if a group violence intervention program offers a glimmer of hope.
Project Safe, Alive and Free (SAF) — spearheaded by Richmond-based rehabilitation center Real Life — launched on June 1. The center is working with Hopewell police and other city and state partners to reduce violent crime in Hopewell.
For the effort, Real Life worked with the police department to compile a list of people who they believe are likely to shoot or be shot.
“This is intervention. The goal is actually to decrease arrests,” Sarah Scarbrough, Real Life’s director, said.
The list has about 30 people on it so far.
“The police involvement is to know the who, what, when and how to prevent and reduce gun violence in the city,” said Hopewell’s interim police chief Gregory Taylor.
Taylor said they used the help of investigators, crime analysts and school resource officers to consider people who were previously involved in gun violence and criminal activity.
Maurice Washington, a violence prevention coordinator for Project SAF, said the ages of the people on the list range from 14 to 28 years old.
“Several of my friends have been murdered and I’ve been around a lot of different shootings my whole life,” Washington said. “I’ve seen a lot of people get shot and been involved in different things myself, so I see this is something that can actually help people.”
Project SAF plans to custom-notify people who are on the list, starting next week, by using people like probation officers and neighbors to help engage them and offer resources.
“We don’t want you to get in trouble. We don’t want you to go to jail. We don’t want you dead,” Scarbrough said. “What can we do and how can we help through a life coaching model, so that you can change your life, so you can change what’s going on?”
Donyel Burrell, a life coach for Project SAF, said this is an indefinite program.
“So many of these guys are used to people giving up on them. The numbers show for everyone shooting, it turns into four. So, if we can get two people, that equals eight less shootings in Hopewell,” he said. “We’re not going to stop.”
Cities across the country have adopted similar models. In Richmond, police launched Operation Red Ball after two children were shot to death in November 2021 on Nine Mile Road.
Detectives and officers in the special investigative unit used crime data, investigative tools and techniques to identify a list of people who were engaged in criminal activity and who posed a threat to the community. The operation is still active and has resulted in 341 felony arrests, 218 misdemeanor arrests and 434 guns seized.
Hopewell saw a 70% spike in violent crime in 2022. Real Life said its goal is to reduce the number of shootings in Hopewell by half, compared to last year’s number, by September.
“You’re going to see that if folks don’t make the right choices, you’re going to see real action from our police and our government agencies in addressing the negative choices that they’re making,” Delegate Carrie Coyner (R-Chesterfield) said. “I think our community is going to really rally and come together for the first time ever to see action.”