Jun 12, 2015
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A Richmond Police Department crime prevention strategy that pays former criminals to stay out of trouble has been called everything from clever to controversial. But recently, the program that has gained national attention — including an April segment on NPR’s This American Life — has been deemed “weird.”

A nationally-syndicated column, “News of the Weird” by Chuck Shepherd, featured the program earlier this month.

The strategy, according to Shepherd, is so bizarre that it deserves to appear on the same list as a biologist who lets 5,000 bedbugs suck blood from her arm in the name of research, and a grammar Nazi who patrols Ecuador’s graffiti looking to correct grammatical errors.

Here’s the brief segment about the Richmond Office of Neighborhood Safety program:

When officials in Richmond, Calif., learned in 2009 that 70 percent of the city’s murders and firearms assaults were directly linked to 17 people, they decided on a bold program: to pay off those 17 to behave themselves. For a budget of about $1.2 million a year, the program offers individual coaching, health-care coverage and several hundred dollars a month in stipends to former thugs who stick to their “life map” of personal goals and conflict-resolution training. According to an April report on National Public Radio’s “This American Life,” Richmond is no longer among the most dangerous towns in America, with the murder rate in fact having fallen from its all-time yearly high of 62 to 11 last year.

So strange is this program, it has been suggested by the Washington Post as a possible solution for the recent crime wave in Baltimore.

The program is undoubtedly unusual. But if it turns out to be useful in other cities, Shepherd may move it to another list he produces called No Longer Weird. For example, he moved a story about a bank robber who accidentally dropped his wallet in the lobby during his getaway to the No Longer Weird section, as he later learned that robbers “do that all the time,” he said.


About the Author

Mike Aldax is the editor of the Richmond Standard. He has 13 years of journalism experience, most recently as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. He previously held roles as reporter and editor at Bay City News, Napa Valley Register, Garden Island Newspaper in Kaua’i, and the Queens Courier in New York City.