Dunbar: Reduce gun violence. Save money. Advance Peace.

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(Kathie Dunbar is an at-large member of the Lansing City Council and executive director of the Southwest Lansing Community Development Association. She’s also running for another term in November.)

In last week’s City Pulse article about Lansing’s rising homicide rate, Lansing Mayor Andy Schor was quoted as saying, “I think we’re doing all that we can.” If that’s the case, it’s time to try something different. As the mayor prepares his next fiscal budget, I urge him to include funding for Advance Peace. 

Lansing experienced the highest number of homicides in three decades last year, the majority of which were gun related. While that invariably leads some residents to demand more police action, law enforcement cannot address the systemic roots of gun violence or mitigate the intersecting factors of race, poverty and inequality. Programs like Advance Peace can, and do.

Founded by Lansing native DeVone Boggan, Advance Peace works in multiple cities to reduce gun violence and promote community healing. It puts those most severely impacted by cyclical and retaliatory gun violence at the center of developing solutions that stop the cycle and support change.

Advance Peace employs formerly incarcerated individuals as Neighborhood Change Agents. Agents then act as “credible messengers,” forming relationships with suspected firearm offenders and encouraging participation in a Peacemaker Fellowship. Fellows receive 18 months of mentoring, case management, educational and travel opportunities, life skills training, subsidized employment and trauma therapy.

Agents also conduct daily outreach, mediate street conflicts, interrupt imminent violence and respond to shootings. They provide referrals and navigation support, facilitating access to much needed social services. Fellows develop and work toward personal and professional life management action plans, while agents provide them with resources, incentives and encouragement to reach their goals.

Yes. The city has budgetary restraints and municipal costs continue to rise. One can easily argue that Lansing has no money to invest in gun violence prevention at this time — until one realizes how much we already spend on gun violence.

In addition to lives lost and families torn apart, gun violence results in significant incidental costs to our city. These include crime scene response teams, emergency medical treatment, police investigations, fees for defense and prosecution, court administration, incarceration, lost tax revenue and victim support. That also doesn’t even begin to calculate the added long-term cost to victims and families, such as lost wages, ongoing medical bills, long-term disability and mental health treatment.

People exposed to gun violence experience life-altering trauma, which can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, poor academic performance and delinquency for children, substance abuse, risky sexual behavior and retaliatory violence. Gun violence negatively impacts local economies by depressing home values, deterring commercial investment and slowing job creation.

Many studies also demonstrate the staggering cost of gun violence to cities across the country. The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence estimates the average cost per city is close to $1 million per gun-related homicide and $435,000 per gun-related injury. Multiply that by the number of homicides and nonlethal shootings in Lansing last year and it becomes clear that we cannot afford the status quo. 

The University of California, Berkeley recently evaluated the social and economic impacts of Advance Peace in the cities of Sacramento and Stockton, where targeted districts experienced an average 20% reduction in gun-related homicides and injuries. In some areas, the results were as high as 47%.

The benefit-cost ratio used to analyze the financial impact of Advance Peace is based on homicides and nonlethal injuries that were successfully circumvented. At a minimum, those ratios in Sacramento and Stockton were 18 to 1 and 47 to 1, respectively. That means every $1 invested in Advance Peace saved these cities $18 to $47 in costs related to gun violence.

Knowing that economic distress exacerbates gun violence, we cannot wait for economic recovery before investing in programs like Advance Peace. There is no tomorrow for those killed by gun violence. The time to invest in gun violence prevention is now.

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