BERKELEY (CBS SF) — Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley studying a gun violence reduction program found it has helped decrease gun homicides and assaults in several California cities and saved taxpayers millions of dollars while serving as a model for police reform.

The report by UC Berkeley’s Center for Global Healthy Cities found that the Advance Peace program, which relies on formerly incarcerated “Neighborhood Change Agents” to engage with offenders, interrupted 44 gun-violence conflicts in Stockton and mediated over 500 community conflicts that prevented escalation into gun violence between 2018 and 2020.

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The work translated into a 21% reduction in Stockton’s gun homicides and assaults compared to the average rate dating back to 2015. Specific districts within the city saw even more of an impact with over 45% reductions in gun homicides and assaults over that same time period, according to the report.

Similar results from the program were seen in Sacramento in a March 2020 study, with gun homicides and assaults dropping 22%, and by 39% reduction in Del Paso Heights area known for prevalent gun violence.

Researchers determined that each shooting cost Stockton taxpayers $962,000 and each gun homicide cost $2.5 million, taking in the costs of police investigations, emergency services, court time and other government services.

The study’s lead author, UC Berkeley public health professor Jason Coburn, told UC Berkeley News that if each of the potential shootings Advance Peace workers stopped in Stockton resulted in an injury, the estimated city costs saved was $42.3 million. If those same conflicts instead led to homicides, the costs would have been $110 million.

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The Advance Peace program, which began as an expansion of Richmond’s Peacemaker Fellowship program using formerly incarcerated community members to engage with perpetrators of gun violence, is now being used in Richmond, Sacramento, Stockton, Fresno and Oakland. New York City mayor Bill De Blasio has announced the city would adopt the program in five precincts beginning this summer.

Coburn told Berkeley News that Advance Peace demonstrates a public health-oriented alternative to typical policing in communities of color that are often distrustful of police.

“These are the hardest to reach people,” Corburn told Berkeley News. “The most likely to be ‘trigger-pullers.’ They’ve almost all been shot, incarcerated and/or traumatized by police. The expectation is they’re going back to jail. To turn them around and to give them an alternative to violence is pretty crucial.”

The Advance Peace nonprofit operates at a fraction of costs compared to standard police budgets, the report said. Over the Stockton study’s two-year period, costs for the program totaled $891,280. Coburn says that means for every dollar spent on the program, the public received between $47.46 to $123.42 in return.

Advance Peace Sacramento also saved the city $18 to $41 for every dollar spent on the program, Coburn said.

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“This program plays a role that police can’t, and never will,” said Corburn. “They have credible messengers that are able to disrupt the gun violence, and change the community dynamic by building trust. And that’s the beginning of redeveloping neighborhoods in a healthy way. It’s a model that works.”