The CP Edit: Advancing peace in Lansing

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The search for solutions to Lansing’s record-breaking epidemic of gun violence is now focused on a promising program known as “Advance Peace” that aims to influence the lives of young people who are most at risk of being the next one to pull the trigger. As explained by Councilwoman (and now mayoral candidate) Kathie Dunbar in a March viewpoint for City Pulse, Advance Peace engages formerly incarcerated individuals to serve as “Neighborhood Change Agents” who have the credibility to interact with at-risk youth and help bring them into the Advance Peace fold as “Peacemaker Fellows.” Participating youngsters then benefit from an intensive 18-month program of interventions that include mentoring, education, subsidized employment, life skills training and more. Funded by Ingham County, the city of Lansing, and other community partners, the program is expected to launch this fall. (See related story)

The brainchild of Lansing native DeVone Boggan, who served as the director of Richmond, California’s groundbreaking Office of Neighborhood Safety, Advance Peace has considerable potential to make a dent in gun violence. According to a report by UC Berkeley’s Center for Global Healthy Cities, California communities that adopted the Advance Peace approach have seen significant reductions in gun-related homicides and injuries, ranging from 20% to as much as 47%. The program also has the potential to save taxpayers millions of dollars by avoiding the hefty costs associated with gun violence incidents, including police investigations, emergency response, court time and other government services. It’s always been the case that a small number of offenders — mostly young males — are responsible for a disproportionate share of shootings in Lansing and elsewhere. If Advance Peace is successful in identifying the young men who are most at risk of becoming the next shooter and enrolling them in the program, we’re convinced it can have a positive impact on reducing gun violence in the city over the long term.

It’s also important to recognize, though, that a single strategy targeting young people who are most likely to engage in gun violence is just one part of the solution. According to a report by the American Psychological Association, effective gun violence prevention must occur “along a continuum that begins in early childhood with programs to help parents raise emotionally healthy children and ends with efforts to identify and intervene with troubled individuals who are threatening violence.” From this perspective, Advance Peace is part of the end game — an attempt to fix what’s already broken — rather than a front-loaded approach to design and then fund support and prevention programs for families with infants and young children. We encourage city and county officials to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy that includes focused interventions along this entire continuum.

Impactful strategies to combat gun violence should also include new legislative measures that reduce the easy availability of firearms by closing gun dealer loopholes, mandating secure storage of guns in the home, and adopting “Extreme Risk” laws that help keep guns out of the hands of individuals with a track record of violence. We call on our state and federal lawmakers to make these strategies an urgent priority.

In related news, Mayor Andy Schor on Monday announced a plan to invest $100,000 in community organizations to support their work with at-risk youth, ostensibly as a response to the city’s gun violence epidemic. Although we’re reflexively skeptical of any mayoral announcement that comes the week before the primary election, we’ll give Schor the benefit of the doubt that his proposal is well-meaning. Our cynicism is fueled not just by the timing, but by the fact that it is a relatively trifling amount, given that the first $20,000 will apparently be split among “at least’’ six different community organizations. While we’re sure they’ll be grateful for the extra three grand apiece, we doubt that a one-time infusion of the city’s pocket change will have much impact on gun violence in Lansing, which requires a focused, multifaceted strategy, a long-term commitment, and significant resources to sustain it.

The other $80,000 in Schor’s proposal is slated to come from “unspent” funds in the Police Department budget, which we presume is a windfall from having left so many police officer positions vacant over the past year. This money will support programs that encourage positive interactions between local cops and at-risk youth through sports leagues and clinics, including new extracurricular programming through the Lansing School District. These are also worthwhile efforts, and it’s better that the money goes to a good cause rather than drawing interest in a city bank account.

 We’ve been critical of Mayor Schor’s mostly reactive response to the city’s rampant gun violence problems (among many other issues), and Monday’s announcement feels like more of the same. Perhaps we should be grateful that he’s moved from his public position in March that “we’re doing all we can” to combat gun violence to an apparent understanding that the problem won’t solve itself. That said, we’re excited about the prospects for the Advance Peace initiative and commend the county and city officials who are bringing it to Lansing.

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