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By Anna Hamilton

For six years now, many community leaders (both legislative and interfaith) have gathered, walked the streets in peace, prayed and advocated to find ways to end violence in San Bernardino.

In 2018, three agencies – Victory Outreach, Clay Counseling and Young Visionaries – in collaboration with the City of San Bernardino and Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC) were granted $100,000 to take the lead on implementing the Violence Intervention Program (VIP).

On Oct. 13, community members attended an evening at the San Bernardino City Hall asking the City Council to invest $1.5 million to ensure this program continues to save lives and help create pathways for change. The Council unanimously voted to allocate $1 million to VIP.

VIP was created to analyze high crime areas, to develop intervention outreach strategies and to improve communication between the community and law enforcement. VIP’s goals are to identify those at highest risk, to reduce violence of homicides and non-fatal injury shootings and to invite people of faith to participate.

In 2020, an interfaith collaboration video project was launched to invite families to gather and walk together as one united in the work for peace. All these efforts have gained the attention of many organizers to come together to end gun violence and to bring hope to a community of young people who fully believe it is normal to have a loved one or a neighbor murdered before they are even an adult. These perceptions need to change, which is why VIP has been successful in just a couple short years.

Today, VIP continues to collaborate with Young Visionaries, Victory Outreach, H.O.P.E. Culture and ICUC, focusing on gang-related gun violence. These leaders have worked alongside city representatives and law enforcement to identify the hot spots and potential at-risk individuals and invite them to gatherings, such as sit-downs, community BBQ’s, sports events, home visits and hours of participant activities which in turn offer mentoring, education and additional support necessary to help keep them off the streets and away from gang violence.

In the past two years, there have been over 280 program participants. Participants have reduced rates of recidivism (88 percent have remained arrest-free), and 89 percent have not become a victim of crime. With VIP, overall gang violence declined by 15 percent and there was a seven percent reduction in overall gang shootings. This is great news indeed.

So what is next for the Violence Intervention Program? With the newly granted $1 million from the City of San Bernardino, VIP can expand to allow more interaction with Loma Linda University Medical Center, which is now collaborating with VIP to offer hospital-based intervention. These funds will also increase community-based intervention, and in the future, school-based intervention and increase training of staff and participants.

VIP has taught us that our diocesan core values of collaboration, hospitality, reconciliation and faith sharing are indeed necessary foundations towards peace.

VIP is a grassroots program that began with a vision of peace in a suffering neighborhood and has grown into a campaign that is days away from seeing a truce between two rival gangs in the community. Please continue to pray for this truce and please support this program and its efforts to end gun violence to build a bridge of hope in our community, neighbors and families by sharing this success with others.

Anna Hamilton is the Associate Director of the Office of Restorative Justice.