FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – For the first time since it was announced, the Fresno police chief and mayor addressed the proposed cut of a million dollars of funding for a controversial gun violence prevention program.
It happened during the budget hearing for the Fresno Police Department.
Community members took over the discussion and demanded that the city reinstate the money originally slated to go to Advance Peace.
The city was supposed to talk only about the police department’s budget but the conversation quickly turned to the PARCs budget and the cutting of Advance Peace due to the lack of trust.
“Trust was highly and severely violated and my pastor always told me,” said Chief Paco Balderrama. “Trust is given, mistrust is earned. Trust has to be built back and I didn’t create that. Other people did.”
Balderrama explained to the Fresno City Council why the police department ended the partnership with Advance Peace, a program run through the Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC). The program’s goal is to reduce gun violence.
Balderrama said although he initially supported the program, an Advance Peace employee arrested for conspiracy to commit murder, leaking of confidential information, threats against at least one council member, and interference in the investigation led to the department cutting ties.
“How can I in sound mind continue to work with them?” questioned Balderrama. “I can’t do that.”
The comments sparked outrage from some in the audience.
“Listen we are going to have order in this chamber,” said Council President Nelson Esparza when he had to bring the meeting back to order.
Many of those audience members spoke earlier in the meeting to demand the city reconsider the cut.
“We have to first stop the bleeding,” said Advance Peace Program Manager Aaron Foster.
“Why would a public servant ever cut a program that saves lives and saves communities and families from a lifetime of trauma,” said EOC CEO Emilia Reyes.
In December 2021, the council approved $950,000 in federal funds to go towards Advance Peace. After the police department cut ties, the city manager and mayor decided that instead of giving money directly to the economic opportunities commission, the money would go into a fund for gang prevention and intervention grant program that organizations would have to apply for.
“I have no doubt that they have stopped shootings but whether or not I support Advance Peace is based on the criteria and training,” said Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer. “The process works that is not to say that the ends justify the means. There have to be safeguards put in place to make sure that it is done the right way.”