Fresno

Despite staffers’ arrest, Fresno’s Advance Peace picks up six-figure grant from taxpayers

Despite a deeply troubling roll-out, in which one of its staffers was arrested for conspiracy to commit two murders, Fresno’s Advance Peace initiative is set to receive a hefty sum in grant funding from taxpayers.

The controversial gun violence prevention program is one of a bevy of organizations set to receive grants from the City of Fresno for anti-violence measures.

The grants, which total $1.5 million, are up for approval at Thursday’s Fresno City Council meeting as part of the city’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative.

The funding is split between the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) distribution to the tune of $950,000 and $550,000 from the general fund.

Advance Peace, which is run through the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, will receive $375,000.

The initiative offers an 18-month fellowship, targeting likely shooters to remove them from the cycle of gun violence.

The program also pays out a monthly stipend to the would-be shooters, a highly-controversial component of the program.

The other groups who have been awarded grants by the city are as follows: 

  • Boys and Girls Clubs of Fresno County – $180,000
  • Hope Now for Youth – $130,000
  • Live Again Fresno – $150,000
  • The Resiliency Center – $50,000
  • Take a Stand Committee – $50,000
  • Trauma Research and Education Foundation of Fresno – $130,000 
  • West Fresno Health Care Coalition dba West Fresno Family Resource Center – $150,000
  • Brain Wise Solutions – $25,000
  • Every Neighborhood Partnership – $75,000 
  • Gidai Maaza – $35,000
  • HandsOn Central California/Fresno Street Saints – $75,000 
  • Fresno Police Activities League – $75,000 

Initially, there were 18 proposals to the city for $5.6 million. 

The Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative is intended to support the following activities, as detailed in the staff report in Thursday’s agenda: 

  1. Expand the capacity of violence interventionists, especially those serving communities of color;
  2. Interrupt cycles of violence and retaliation to reduce the incidence of homicide, shootings and aggravated assaults; 
  3. Invest in prevention efforts for youth and young adults that mitigate the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) and trauma. 

Documents indicate that the program is administered through the city’s parks and recreation department, not its police force.

The Sun reached out to city officials for clarification on management of the grants but did not receive a response ahead of publication.

The gang violence program, which was piloted in Richmond, Calif., has struggled mightily to gain support at Fresno City Hall since its first introduction in 2019.

After receiving initial seed funding via taxpayer-funded coronavirus relief, the program – which is operated through the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission – faced a major set back.

In April, Advance Peace employee Leonard Smith was arrested for conspiracy to commit two murders during a local, state, and Federal gang sweep.

Two months after the arrest, Mayor Jerry Dyer’s administration publicly pulled support for the program amid budget negotiations.

Along with Smith’s arrest, Fresno City Manager Georgeanne White cited opposition from Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama as the reason for withdrawing support.

“The Chief was adamant that due to the criminal indictment of an Advance Peace member for conspiracy to commit murder, threats made to at least one city council member, and the misuse of sensitive information provided to Advance Peace, Fresno PD could no longer partner, share information, or work with Advance Peace under the current model,” she said in a statement at the time.

It was later revealed that staff with Advance Peace issued criminal threats to two members of the Fresno City Council, including Fresno City Council member Miguel Arias. 

But not even one week after the bold pronouncement, Dyer reversed course in the budget negotiations and reopened the door for taxpayer dollars to be funneled to the program through the violence prevention grant program that will come to fruition Thursday.

Advance Peace will use the funds to serve at least 60 youth, including an 18-month Junior Fellows program which will reach around 25 at-risk youth with violence prevention services.

If approved, the funding will run through June 2023 with an option for a one-year extension.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.