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Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer says Advance Peace works. City Council urges him to fund it

Fresno Bee logo Fresno Bee 3 days ago Brianna Vaccari, The Fresno Bee

City funding for the gun violence prevention program Advance Peace Fresno is frozen until city officials, and program managers return with a joint proposal for the Fresno City Council to consider.

After Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer omitted Advance Peace from his proposed fiscal year 2022-23 budget, City Councilmember Miguel Arias proposed the $950,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funding not be distributed until 30 days after the budget is passed. Arias’ motion included a requirement for Dyer’s administration to work with Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, which manages Advance Peace, to submit a proposal to the City Council.

The city council will vote on budget motions on Thursday and must adopt the budget by the end of the month.

“There’s no clear winner today,” Arias said. “I am hopeful that the community, city staff, and the mayor will get in the same room, figure out what adjustments have to be made, and come back with a proposal. Ultimately, we cannot be ‘One Fresno’ while divided over the work of gun violence. It’s too hard for any of us to take on on our own. So I am really hopeful that we will find some middle ground.”

Dyer, City Manager Georgeanne White, and Police Chief Paco Balderrama said they opted not to give Advance Peace money in the proposed budget after considering a number of factors. The top factor was an Advance Peace employee’s arrest during Operation No Fly Zone, a massive multi-agency gang operation.

Arias, in his remarks, called out what he said was a double standard in how city officials treated Advance Peace. He pointed out that the mayor and city manager, when new in their roles, asked the City Council for grace.

“When an officer is arrested for misbehavior, we say he’s a bad apple, and we deal with him,” Arias said. “When it happens to the community, we say we have a problem with the whole structure.

“What the community’s asking today is for grace,” Arias said.

Other councilmembers echoed his sentiments.

Council President Nelson Esparza asked the police chief to keep an open mind about Advance Peace.

“Just like we’ve done with PD, we’ve leaned in and tried to build in accountability measures,” Esparza said, referring to the city’s police reform efforts. “This council rejected those voices that, for two years, were saying that law enforcement is rotten at its core. We don’t believe that here.

“In the same respect, we’re going to reject the notion that Advance Peace is rotten at its core. We reject that. I think that there’s hope,” Esparza said.

Emilia Reyes, CEO of Fresno EOC, said she looks forward to receiving a positive funding proposal from the mayor and city council.

“We know that the Advance Peace Fresno program works. It saves lives, saves families, and communities from a lifelong journey of trauma,” Reyes said in a statement to The Bee.

The council comments came after hours of public comment Monday during the Fresno Police Department budget hearing, largely from Black Fresnans expressing their support for Advance Peace. A half dozen faith leaders from a variety of backgrounds and other community organizations also voiced their support.

During the lunch break, city officials attended a Juneteenth flag-raising ceremony in front of City Hall.

“It’s a shame that, on the commemoration following Juneteenth, the day intended to represent emancipation, that the one group that has been emancipating — literally preventing violence and saving lives— Advanced Peace, is even on the table for consideration whether it would be funded or not,” Hashid Kasama said during public comment, calling the Juneteenth ceremony “a PR stunt.”

Rebuilding trust

Advance Peace identifies the city’s most likely shooters and provides services and support to give them reasons to live without the violence. The program has seen success backed by research in other California cities such as Richmond and Stockton.

Balderrama told the City Council that Advance Peace lost his trust during the course of the Operation No Fly Zone investigation.

After Balderrama learned that some members of Advance Peace discouraged people involved in crime from cooperating with police, he decided his working relationship with Advance Peace was over, he said. Plus, some information that police shared with Advance Peace was used inappropriately, he said.

“Trust was highly and severely violated,” Balderrama said. “My pastor always told me, ‘Trust is given. Mistrust is earned.’”

Aaron Foster, program manager for Advance Peace, said it’s unclear what, if any, information Advance Peace received from police. Most times, Advance Peace employees know the suspects and targets of gun violence before the police because of the nature of the program, he said.

Balderrama said when he arrived in Fresno in January 2021, he was one of the biggest supporters of Advance Peace.

“I believe in these types of programs,” he said, noting that Advance Peace provides alternative safety tools to policing. “I believe the best model is when the police department and organizations such as Advanced Peace are working together.”

Balderrama said some of the work needed to rebuild trust with the program already took place. He’s spoken with Foster and Reyes, who leads Fresno EOC. He said he wants to see accountability measures and performance measures for the program.

Foster said Monday evening that he remains optimistic trust between the program and the police department can be rebuilt. He noted that many of the law-abiding citizens Advance Peace works with are skeptical of police because of past policing practices.

“Trust has to be two-fold, right?” Foster said. “It has to be definitely a relationship because a relationship is never one-sided.”

Foster said he’s willing to work to rebuild trust with the police department as long as Advance Peace can maintain its relationships and trust with the people it serves — Fresno’s residents who are most likely to commit gun violence.

“I believe that if we are given the same opportunity and second chances than every other organization has received before us, then we can have a standard relationship that works for our community,” Foster said. “It’s not about Advanced Peace, and it’s not about law enforcement. It’s about making the holistic change throughout our community, throughout the entire city of Fresno.”

Discrepancy in data

U.C. Berkeley’s Center for Global Healthy Cities analyzes data to evaluate how Advance Peace is performing. The police department directly shares data with the center for evaluation.

The center’s lead evaluator for Advance Peace, Jason Corburn, spoke to the city council Monday about the Fresno program. Corburn said it’s been hard to evaluate the program’s performance in Fresno because the data the center receives from Fresno Police Department is incomplete.

Fresno PD sends data to the center monthly, Corburn said.

He gave an example where police provided a data set on homicides showing a homicide occurred on Dec. 18, but police also provided a data set on shootings that did not show a shooting or homicide had occurred on Dec. 18. Additionally, victim information often is missing from homicide data, Corburn said.

Balderrama said he learned about the missing data about a month ago and asked a deputy chief to rectify the issue. That will make it easier to evaluate the program’s performance, he said.

Despite the data issues, Corburn said the Advance Peace program’s impact on Fresno isn’t “under dispute.”

“We know that there are intense public costs to gun violence and Advanced Peace is working, to not just heal and help the community, but they’re clearly also saving the city of Fresno and the entire community millions of dollars,” Corburn said.

Councilmember Garry Bredefeld questioned the way the data was evaluated and interpreted. Because the county and hospitals share some fiscal burden in dealing with gun violence suspects and victims, Bredefeld argued the cost savings reported by the Berkeley researchers were misleading.

“If we’re looking at data, and this is what it is, we need to be honest about what that data is telling us,” he said.

Mayor Dyer’s stance

Early in the Advance Peace conversation, and after Arias pressed him, Dyer said, “I know for a fact they’ve stopped shootings.”

But he wouldn’t definitely say whether he’d award Fresno EOC grant money for the program.

“I am very confident that EOC is going to submit a grant for the intervention work that’s been done under Advance Peace,” he said.

Later, per the request of Councilmember Garry Bredefeld, Dyer clarified his thoughts on the program.

“Whether or not I support Advance Peace depends on the model and the criteria that is established that gives us the assurances, as a city, that criminal investigations are not going to be hindered with information provided,” Dyer said. “…I believe what they do is very effective in our community. No question.”

“That’s not to say that the end justifies the means,” Dyer said. “There has to be safeguards put in place to make sure that it’s done in the right way. That’s, I believe, what the motion was today.”

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