FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – After years of controversy, a local program aimed at reducing gun violence could lose nearly a million dollars in funding from the City of Fresno.
The mayor and city manager do not plan to fund Advance Peace in the future budget. It comes two months after an Advance Peace employee was arrested for conspiracy to commit murder.
Organizers of Advance Peace said if this happened nearly half of their funding would be wiped out and it would seriously affect the program. However, the city manager said the lack of trust ultimately led to her and the mayor’s decision.
“Lives will be lost and I guarantee it,” said Aaron Foster, an Advance Peace Program manager.
Foster has lost not one but two of his children to gun violence. His heartbreak inspired Foster to dedicate his life to reducing gun violence through a program called Advanced Peace.
“I was shocked at first,” Foster said when he heard about the potential budget cut. “Because I know that we have the best strategy in the world.”
Advance Peace is a program run through the Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC). The program gives resources including life skill training to gang members as long as they stay out of trouble.
A UC Berkeley Study said in 2021, Advance Peace of Fresno reduced gun violence and prevented at least 60 shootings.
For years, the program has had to fight for funding from the city, but this year, the city manager and mayor want to cut the program after a series of issues.
The main one is the arrest of Advance Peace employee, 43-year-old Leonard Smith. Smith was charged with conspiracy to commit murder as part of a major gang operation by Fresno Police named “No Fly Zone.”
City Manager Georgeanne White said Chief Paco Balderrama told her that the arrest, leaking of sensitive police information, and threats made to at least one council member led to the department cutting ties with Advance Peace.
“I must trust the judgment of my police chief when he conveys serious concerns regarding Advance Peace and that the trust and partnership have been compromised. Not only do I trust Chief Balderrama, but I firmly stand by his decision.”- White said in a statement.
White and the mayor propose the city gives the $950,000 in American Rescue Plan money that was set aside for Advance peace to other gang prevention and intervention programs.
The budget proposal has not been approved and still would need to go through the city council.
The Million Voters Project has started a petition in support of Advance Peace.