11/10/2007

Outreach workers hit Calif. city's violent streets

There will be some collaboration with police, but a distinction also will be drawn between the office's violence-prevention activities and the police department's enforcement work.

By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times

RICHMOND, Calif. — Outreach workers with Richmond's new Office of Neighborhood Safety should be in place by the beginning of next year, if not sooner.

The workers, also called neighborhood change agents, will provide a presence on the streets, serve as conflict mediators, be among the first to respond in an emergency and connect people to services, said DeVone Boggan, director of the office.

Boggan, whose first day on the job was Oct. 23, said he has spent the past two weeks launching the infrastructure for the office, which is charged with reducing violence by refocusing local and regional prevention programs, coordinating local anti-violence groups and projects, and becoming a portal of information about violence and its causes.

The City Council this fiscal year approved $612,000 to fund the office, including its director, four outreach workers and an administrative assistant.

Job descriptions are in the works for the outreach workers. Boggan said he is collecting feedback on refining those descriptions, which then will cycle through the human resources approval process.

Officials will do what they can to fast-track the job description approval, City Manager Bill Lindsay said.

"We know this is a high priority," he said.

Boggan is looking at ways to leverage the existing budget to increase the number of outreach workers from four to eight, he said. Local community centers would serve as their headquarters.

In addition, the office will work with the parks and recreation and graffiti abatement departments and employ other strategies to help curb violence. There will be some collaboration with police, but a distinction also will be drawn between the office's violence-prevention activities and the police department's enforcement work, Boggan said.

In conjunction with city and county officials and local groups, the office will apply for a state grant of $165,000 a year for three years to tackle street violence. The deadline is Nov. 26.

The office will develop a re-entry program for offenders.

It's not possible to say when residents will start to see a decrease in violence, officials said. "It's been 20-plus years of violence, and that doesn't happen overnight," Boggan said. "We're working at a fast pace to get it done."

But within the next few months, officials say they expect some of the basic infrastructure, such as an advisory committee and outreach workers, to be up and running. Collaboration between the office and anti-violence groups should be better.

"We're in this for the long haul and hope and expect to see a continued reduction over time," Lindsay said.

From what it would do to who would lead it, the Office of Neighborhood Safety has fallen under heavy scrutiny, underscoring a community urgency toward reducing crime.

"It's really important we do get this up and going and running. Crime has spread in the city," said Jim Jenkins, president of the North and East Neighborhood, which has witnessed more car thefts and break-ins.

Some community members have raised concerns that the ONS has not reached out enough to longtime anti-violence activists. Jackie Thompson, a Tent City Peace Movement organizer, said Boggan did not contact her or other members of the group to get feedback on the job descriptions for outreach workers.

"Include us in this," Thompson said. She added that she took the initiative to arrange a meeting with Boggan earlier this week.

Boggan said he has connected with some locals, though not all, and intends to do more outreach.

"I have every intention to engage the community before we launch anything in the community," Boggan said.

Copyright 2007 Contra Costa Times

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