Criminals For Hire

We all know or at least have heard about the problems that plague the “inner city negro”. From sunrise to sunset, news seekers get on-site correspondence across various media about the plight of poor folks. Those unprivileged, unfortunate bastards who live on or beneath the margins and the pits they attempt to exist in, including drugs, crime, poverty, and consistent lacking in education and resources.

All we seem to generate are problems and complications in constant barrages; where they start, how they occur, and how they fester. Normally after that dose of media medicine, you’ll hear about the affect it has on whichever community is presented and then the country overall. This cyclical process occurs from 5 a.m. with the first news cast of the day, pauses after 11 p.m., only to restart the very next morning. The shits a bottomless crater and an endless operation and far too often we aren’t given viable, sustainable resolutions on how to improve our societal ills.

In Norfolk ,California, the Office of Neighborhood Safety, has been providing one particular solution for gun violence since 2009: pay people to not kill other people. Dig this, the shit’s been working brilliantly.

Naturally, opposition and critics deem this as rewarding criminals for NOT being criminals but the circumstances and results are not so black and white.

Let me provide a bit of context.

Devone Boggan, Program Director of the ONS was hired by the city of Norfolk in 2007 after gun violence had reached a seemingly insurmountable level.  Shit was so out of control in this metro of only 100,000 that the National Guard was considered as an option to cool shootings and murders that occurred verging on a daily basis.


It wasn’t until a meeting with city officials and law enforcement where Boggan learned that 70% of the 45 homicides by gun violence and hundreds of firearm assaults were committed by a mere handful of people. 17 to be exact.

Boggan thought to himself:

“Almost every day someone was being shot …I mean it was literally popping. It was on fire, no question about that…. if we can wrap our arms around that and just engage the 17 people in a different way, that could have a significant impact on the narrative of what’s really going on in the city of Richmond.”

Although he didn’t know exactly how yet, he had what many of us don’t; a possible solution.

He began implementing his plan in the streets of Norfolk, where the problems of the community manifest. His idea was to establish a mentorship program that reaches out to those most likely to commit gun violence. After some initial refusals, he was able to enlist the service of 20 troubled young men to his crusade and with the help from private donors, Operation Peacemaker was created.

Boggan began to study and embrace other programs executed in other cities across the U.S that showed positive outcomes, in particular one established by David Kennedy, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Kennedy’s framework consists of targeting individuals who are considered the most violent by law enforcement and brings them in for “Call Ins”, which are composed of group conversations and personal sessions. Mostly those invited are parolees who MUST attend or face warnings and eventually stiff consequences.

Boggan noticed that great deal of resentment can build when prison is used as a threat on a parolee’s freedom, which certainly affects morale and general positivity. Thus, he decided to make slight changes in the paradigm. His idea was to take the hierarchy of law enforcement out of the equation completely and only focus on those who are on a direct collision course with correctional facilities. He then narrowed in on teens and young adults who’ve been known to engage in gun violence and in his words,”shower these youth with positivity, not threats of prison”.

devone boggan

The ONS, who oddly enough occupy a space in City Hall that used to be a jail, only invites the hardest of the hard into their ranks but, like everything else in life, there are caveats. These young men are very often suspected of violent crimes, but whom local authorities don’t have enough substantiation to criminally charge. Youths must pledge to change their lives before they begin by putting their guns down and becoming advocates for peace, only then will they be matched with mentors who are reformed criminals themselves. The Mentors, known as “neighborhood change agents’, help the young men with counsel, words of wisdom, and life support skills to attain legal employment. All while keeping in tune with corner stores, churches, and barbershops for where future trouble might occur so they can intervene positively and establish trust with possible candidates for the program.
“I want us to hunt ‘em like they hunt, and I want us to hunt for information…We have better information than the police.”
Here’s where fault finders normally get their panties in a bunch.
Once the mentee’s prove themselves as valuable members of society and exhibit excellent behavior after six months, they have the opportunity to earn a stipend of up to $1,000 per month depending on their progress following a “life map” of personal and professional goals.
Yes, you read correctly, cash money in the hands of would-be criminals monthly.
“It’s the only agency where you’re required to have a criminal background to be an employee”-Devone Boggan
Now you can hate all you want, but Boggan, his workers, and his young warriors of ONS are putting up results and the numbers are astonishing. Let’s keep in mind that Norfolk isn’t some large urban metro by any stretch of the imagination. But good work is good work, no matter where. Since the programs birth, Norfolk has seen gun related homicides drop to just 11 in 2014. The city hasn’t recorded a number that low since the early 1970’s. Last year it crept up to a whopping 16.
I would be a fool to believe that the ONS is the only reason why gun related crime has dropped so rapidly, but I cannot deny that it’s definitely assisted, as incentive based programs tend to do. Especially ones that can literally help decrease crime AND poverty.
Others don’t quite see it that way.
Richmond City Councilman Corky Boozé has been one of the loudest voices who stand in opposition and disputes the peacekeepers overall affect on the community. Moreover, he strongly disagrees with the programs outright refusal to work with law enforcement whatsoever. Even through the ONS could be considered a victory for community relations, Boozé has been a constant representative of the non believers of Boggan and was quoted as wanting to bring the ONS “to their knees”. Although the ONS has produced college graduates and kept dozens of men alive who otherwise might not else have been, Boozé feels those success are unverified. He also feels there are overtones of racial naivety:
“White folks like to pat black folks on the head, give ‘em a few bucks, and think that their problems will go away. It never happens.” -Councilman Corky Boozé
True enough, there are more reasons besides the work done by the ONS that contribute to a decrease in gun violence. Allwyn Brown, Richmond’s deputy chief of police, attributes better police staffing and improved community engagement between law enforcement and residents as critical and important tools. He does, however, note that programs like the ONS are part of the main reason why Richmond is safer today.
That being said, we’re way past the point of continual complaining and I salute those who actually have the balls to go and do something about the shit.
I, for one, commend these brothers for their bravery and the wisdom of Boggan to focus on solutions rather than doing what we’ve been known to do in our community for centuries;
talk, talk, talk.

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