The Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS) has been getting a lot of press since the fight incident of October 14. The information below from the city manager and an article in Richmond Confidential may be helpful in providing a somewhat different perspective from that in much of the media coverage over the last few days.
I am neither justifying the ONS leadership nor either agreeing or disagreeing with its critics, including Corky Booze. For the time being, however, the city manager has my confidence to deal with the department as he feels appropriate; I am not going to try and micromanage it. There is certainly room for improvement in the ONS as with any other department, and both the city manager and the ONS director have publicly acknowledged this. In fact, the city manager is in the process of arranging an independent third party expert assessment of the ONS in the near future, just as he has done with other City departments in the past.
Some things to keep in mind about the most lurid of recently publicized incidents:
- The fight that broke out was a fistfight, not a gunfight. Considering the individuals involved, this could be considered very good news. Would that all violent gang interactions in Richmond be limited to fistfights. And the “victim” did not even press charges, I am told.
- Without condoning the rumored but unsubstantiated report of sex in a City vehicle, I wish that all unauthorized incidents involving City vehicles in my 16 years on the City Council had been limited to consensual sex. I can’t tell you how many millions of dollars the City has paid out to victims of City employees negligently operating vehicles involved in crashes, including police officers, with at least one hit and run. For the taxpayers’ sake, I’ll take sex any day and spend the money on streets, libraries, cops, or something else useful.
- ONS has been widely criticized for allowing rival turf members to come together at the same time. According to the city manager, their arrival was “unannounced and unscheduled,” which was unfortunate but not necessarily a policy lapse.
Mayor and City Councilmembers:
The following is a report regarding the recent incident at the Office of Neighborhood Safety and the follow-up to this incident.
Incident at Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS) on Friday October 14, 2011
On Friday, October 14th at about 12:45 PM, two separate groups of young men (7 young men in all) from different sides of town (“rival neighborhoods”) arrived at City Hall unannounced and unscheduled at approximately the same time. These individuals have a negative history with each other, and some are part of the ONS Fellowship program (described below) because they have been identified as young men most likely to be involved in gun violence in Richmond. Upon sighting one another, there was an antagonistic exchange of words and looks between the groups. This unhealthy exchange of words/looks provoked a physical altercation (fist fight) that occurred in the ONS office space. The fight lasted about 2-3 minutes. No weapons were used nor were any seen. After the altercation, some of the young men left the building, others stayed at the ONS until police arrived. It was noted by someone on site that one of those involved in the scuffle suffered a broken nose, and therefore there was blood loss. No victim(s) of any injury has come forward to this point.
The Director was not in the office when the altercation took place. Administrative staffers were present and they recognized some but not all of those involved in the fight.
Communications between the ONS Director and Richmond Police Department (RPD) Special Investigations Section (SIS) Commander occurred immediately after the incident and later that same day. Several communications between the ONS Director and the RPD Liaison (Detective Tom Hauschild) assigned to the ONS followed the incident and throughout the weekend following the incident. It is common for the RPD Liaison and the ONS Director to be in communication 2-3 times daily and this hasn’t changed since the incident. The ONS is working closely with RPD's (SIS) to prevent further conflict around this particular altercation and the other several ongoing street level conflicts that often resort to shootings and killings in Richmond.
The Office of Neighborhood Safety is currently working to identify, develop and administer measures to reduce the likelihood of such an occurrence happening again.
ONS/RPD Staff and Outreach Communication Protocol
In late 2007 (soon after ONS was launched), ONS, RPD and the City Attorney’s Office developed communications protocols that provide direction as to how ONS staff and RPD communicate with one another. As part of this protocol, an identified RPD Officer (usually Lieutenant rank, usually SIS/Gang or Homicide sections) is assigned by the Chief of Police to the ONS. Communication between the two departments related to reducing gun violence and saving lives is transacted between the ONS Director and the assigned RPD Liaison. As part of this protocol, ONS staffers are not required to speak to RPD personnel in the commission of fulfilling their duties as staff to the ONS. Instead, they are to communicate with the ONS Director and then to the Police. Because of the nature of the ONS and street outreach work, and the ongoing need to obtain and maintain trust and credibility to its primary stakeholder group (maintaining safety for all involved), it is essential that this protocol be followed.
It is important to note that the established communications protocol was followed after the altercation. It should also be noted, however, that whenever procedures and operating protocols are “tested” as they were during this incident, it is appropriate to evaluate and, if necessary, modify these procedures and protocols as appropriate. We intend to conduct such an evaluation with both the Police Department and with ONS.
The Office of Neighborhood Safety Operation Peacemaker Fellowship
In June of 2010, the ONS launched the Operation Peacemaker Fellowship for individuals identified as being most likely to be involved in gun violence in the City of Richmond. Twenty-five individuals were initially identified and 21 of the 25 signed on for the first cohort. With a grant from The California Endowment, the East Bay Community Foundation and Chevron, the ONS was able to expand the Fellowship to 40 individuals. The Fellowship is a stipend-based life skills development and training program, that acts much like a conditional cash transfer program in other sectors. The program has the goals of reducing gun violence, reducing recidivism and providing the young men with real alternatives to gun violence which include mentoring/life coaching, guided opportunities/service referrals, and healthy exposures and activities.
The young men identified for the program are required to spend between 15-20 hours per week developing life skills designed to keep them alive and free from incarceration. Each young man makes a commitment to remain free of gun related activity, with this commitment being verified/corroborated by law enforcement. For each of the Fellows, a LifeMap Case Plan is developed between the Fellow and a case manager. A street outreach worker (ONS Neighborhood Change Agent) is assigned to each Fellow to assist him with meeting the goals of his LifeMap Case Plan. The goals and activities of this plan include the Fellows developing and working toward improving the following areas of their lives:
Housing, behavioral health, employment readiness, education, transportation, parenting/child support, substance abuse, medical/health, healthy social networks, conflict resolution, anger management, safety, life skills training, recreational/physical, peace talks with rival neighborhood members, etc.
Each Fellow is provided a significant amount of attention and assistance. Monthly Stipends associated with this Fellowship have a ceiling of $1,000.00 per month, and are performance based (goals achieved and accomplished per month per individualized LifeMap Case Plan). The current experience is that most Fellows are earning between $350 and $750 per month (based on the degree of difficulty in reaching defined goals).
There are absolutely no City/General Funds fund the Fellowship. In fact, the funds are being used in precisely the manner for which the funds have been provided by the grantors.
* * * * *
I hope that this is information helpful. I want to assure you that I take these issues very seriously, and that they will result in significant follow-up involving both the Office of Neighborhood Safety and the Police Department. In addition, there is a study session on the October 25th City Council agenda regarding ONS activities (this study session had, in fact, been scheduled prior to last Friday’s incident).
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or require any additional information.
City of Richmond
450 Civic Center Plaza
Richmond, California 94804-1630
City Hall fistfight catalyst for debate between Office of Neighborhood Safety and critics
The brawl in City Hall last Friday took place on the third floor in the Office of Neighborhood Safety's suite. (photo by: Meghan Walsh)
By: Lexi Pandell | October 19, 2011 – 3:23 pm
Long-standing rifts between the Office of Neighborhood Safety and its critics have broken open following a fight last week involving youth from rival neighborhoods who had gathered inside City Hall.
Citing Richmond police reports, local newspapers have published accounts of a melee that left City Hall rooms splattered with blood in addition to allegations that a female ONS staffer was caught in a compromising sexual situation in a car three days before.
On Wednesday, spokesmen from the Richmond Police Department and the Contra Costa County Sherriff’s Department say those reports should not have been released.
“I know that the police report got out, but I don’t know how,” said Richmond Police Captain Mark Gagan. “Normally the police report does not get out without being redacted … In this case, before we even had a chance to speak on the issue, the reporter had received a copy of the report.”
The episode has cast a strong light on the increasingly controversial role of the ONS and its tenuous relationship with the police, public and some on the City Council.
ONS was launched in 2007, and includes a staff of community outreach specialists who use community connections and trust to work in high-crime communities, often intervening to quell retaliation after gang-related shootings. ONS agents say that sharing information with police would undercut their credibility, a crucial asset when intervening to reduce violence.
That unconventional role can be a source of tension between the ONS and other agencies, leaders and law enforcement personnel.
“[ONS methods] are unconventional and nontraditional,” said Councilman Tom Butt. “That always provokes some opposition.”
In an interview for an earlier story, DeVone Boggan said heated words were exchanged in the City Hall parking lot when seven young men from two rival groups both showed up to meet with ONS staff members. Tensions escalated. Once the young men were in the ONS suite, a brawl broke out. The unauthorized police report further detailed what happened inside the office, including an account from a responding officer criticizing how ONS staff reacted to the situation directly after the incident.
Gagan said the department has interviewed four police staff, but have not discovered who released the reports. Whoever did is subject to discipline, as releasing such information without permission is in violation of department policy, Gagan said.
Meanwhile, ONS has not cooperated with police in the felony investigation, Gagan said. Their choice is an ethical one, and Gagan said refusing to cooperate with the police on such a matter is not illegal.
“We were concerned initially with the staff’s unwillingness to cooperate with the investigation,” he said. “I think I understand the nature of the outreach does need to show the people that they work with that they’re not going to tell everything to the police.”
One police officer is specifically designated to act as a liason to ONS, Butt said.
“They have to be able to build and maintain the confidence of a lot of people on the fringes of society,” Butt said. “ONS simply can’t be in a position where the people they deal with think that they are going to take their information and give it to police. “
“When all this stuff came down at City Hall you had a conventional police response, and what they should have done is all this stuff should have gone through the liaison officer,” he said. “That’s proper protocol.”
The tension “between police and ONS is just something natural,” Butt said.
“You have police, they are out there to enforce the law, and you’ve got this ONS that has a whole different mission and to do it effectively they have to have different kinds of people,” he said.
Police Chief Chris Magnus declined to comment on the issue, writing in an email that Gagan “adequately represents where our agency stands on this incident and our view of relations overall with the Office of Neighborhood Safety.”
Reactions to the incident from City Council have been varied — a local newspaperreported that Councilman Corky Booze called for Boggan’s immediate removal. He also said that ONS staff made an irresponsible choice as city employees by refusing to cooperate with the police.
“Corky can’t stand DeVone, just can’t stand him, and he is going to continue to be on his case,” said Butt. “There is always going to be tension around that.”
City Councilman Jeff Ritterman, a supporter of ONS, said some opposed Boggan’s initial appointment as director while others are critical about the allocation of funding or have personal issues with how the group works.
“There is a contingent of people that have been critical of DeVone even when he has done wonderful things,” Ritterman said. “But I have not heard any really significant, substantive criticism that has stood up to scrutiny.”
Ritterman said he thinks people are using this situation as a platform to voice their personal opinions.
“I think the press is all over this, but I think there’s a much bigger story,” he said. “I think everybody ought to calm down and not get so excited about this … and, lets be serious, [violence] is a national problem and there’s a mega force at play.”
More than a dozen people spoke in support of ONS during last night’s City Council meeting. Among them were individuals from ONS staff outreach, CCISCO and Safe Return in addition to unaffiliated Richmond residents who lost family members to gun violence.
“We’re engaging these young people,” said Jeff Rutland, a volunteer with Safe Return. “We have the news here for a fistfight that happened Friday … This is what we’re reduced to.”
The supporters drew cheers and applause from members of the crowd. A video camera filmed the public comments, leaving soon after its conclusion.
Later in the evening, the City Council approved ONS and Safe Return Project service contracts with the CalGRIP IV Grant.
ONS and the Police Department have different approaches to the same goals, Gagan said, and this specific instance is a symptom of a need for more collaboration.
“Talking to reporters in the media or talking to City Council is not the way that working relationships are improved,” Gagan said.
Gagan declined to comment on allegations that a female ONS staff member engaged in sexual acts in a city car and the city’s Human Resource department was unable to answer whether any staff member was on administrative leave.
The police are still investigating what happened at City Hall on Friday and have not identified any of the seven participants in the fight, although Gagan said authorities will review CCTV video footage.
Butt noted that the individual attacked declined to press charges.
“…So if you don’t have a victim what are you investigating?” he said.
City Manager Bill Lindsay said officials will evaluate the building’s security, as is done whenever there’s any incident of workplace violence.
“For example, there was a suggestion that ONS have the ability to know who’s in their office door before they open it,” Lindsay said. “The same thing you would have in their own home, a way to identify who’s there.”
Other possible changes would be tightening up entrance security and reducing public entryways from two to one. From the program perspective, Lindsay said they will “be evaluating anything that was related to that incident,” which includes preventing rival groups from occupying the same space and long term changes to prevent antagonism between groups of young men.
Butt said he expected Lindsay to issue a written statement today to clarify the issue and the city’s reaction.
Contributions by: Robert Rogers
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