SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — The Syracuse Common Council is mulling over a proposal that would pay people who are prone to violence $100 to $200 stipends to participate in mental health circles, job training, and career coaching. Mayor Ben Walsh’s Office to Reduce Gun Violence brought forth this initiative in early March, but is yet to be voted on by the city’s common council. The Walsh administration believes they can reduce violent crime by giving people who are likely to be violent the resources they need to turn their life around.
Syracuse Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens has argued for this program on the basis that it’s been successful in other places, like Richmond, California. The city across the bay from San Francisco is about the same size as Syracuse. Richmond Community Services Deputy Director Sam Vaughn says his city has seen a 65 to 82 percent reduction in shootings that have led to injury or death since it was implemented in 2010.
“We engage those at the center of most impacted by gun violence, invite them to a relationship, a family, a process, that would help them become their true self,” Vaughn said. “There’s monetary incentives for that but it wasn’t to not be violent. It was to obtain and achieve goals that they set for themselves.”
He’s encouraged that Syracuse is doing something similar, but says it’s a bit different than what his city did. Richmond’s program asks at-risk youth what their problems are and provides them with the resources to help them, but Vaughn says Syracuse is telling people what they need by narrowing down the resources to just a few.
“I think trying to create a recipe for someone without having them involved in what items they want in the meal is kind of you dictating this is what you need without even acknowledging what’s going on with that person,” Vaughn said. “You have to involve them in their success plan. If you’re not the creator of your future, then we’ve made a wrong decision.”
Vaughn says Syracuse also needs to individualize its program and be patient with it, or the city risks losing the trust of the very people they’re trying to help.
“If you don’t do it right, you can cause more harm than good,” Vaughn said. “If you’re not in it for the long haul, because this takes time to be effective. A lot of people try to put a bandaid on something that needs internal surgery.”
Syracuse Common Councilor Pat Hogan criticized the principle of paying known “gang members” in an editorial on Syracuse.com. Syracuse Police Benevolent Association President Joseph Moran says that most officers voiced a similar concern.
“It’s merely the principle,” Moran said. “The conversation is stemming around $100 to $200 weekly payments. I don’t care if it was one dollar. It’s the sheer principle of issuing direct payments to documented gang members. In our opinion, that specific component is an improper allocation of taxpayer dollars.”
Moran added that officers were upset they weren’t made aware of it earlier.
“I was surprised that they didn’t notify me so that I could essentially notify the membership of this policy from the mayor’s Office to Reduce Gun Violence,” Moran said. “We would have really appreciated knowing this in advance prior to finding out in the media.”
This program would begin with 50 people between 18-24 years old. Mayor Ben Walsh is seeking Common Council approval to spend $1 million on the pilot of this program, but it’s yet to be seen if it has enough support to pass. The future of Syracuse’s proposal is unknown.