“On paper we’re positioned to have two groups working in Canarsie,” said K. Bain, the executive director of the anti-violence group Community Capacity Development. “In reality, we have not been funded to do it, so what you see is us working off of fumes.”
A co-architect of the city’s Crisis Management System, Bain has watched as officials have increasingly embraced the model in public, while tangible support has remained in limbo.
After the Bloomberg administration put $20 million into the program, Bain said he spent years leaning on de Blasio to properly fund the system. The pressure has paid off, he said, bringing national attention to the program, while helping to combat a rise in shooting .
When President Joe Biden visited New York City earlier this year, his second stop – after a trip to NYPD headquarters – was a Queens elementary school, where he met with Bain and others to promise additional funding for violence interrupters.
There are now more than 60 providers under the crisis management program, which includes other services in addition to violence interrupters, such as school conflict mediators and a jobs program for those at risk of gun violence.
But even as officials praised the policing alternative, the city’s system remains plagued by procurement and contracting issues that frequently get in the way of the work, according to several violence interrupters.
“We’ve inherited this monster of red tape and bureaucracy,” said one worker, who asked for anonymity to avoid professional blowback. “The NYPD doesn’t have to tell their employees that they won’t be getting paid this week because of a backlog from the city.”
Jonah Allon, a mayoral spokesperson, pointed to the recent formation of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, which aims to “professionalize these groups’ operations so they can better serve their communities and develop upstream solutions to stem the tide of shootings.”
He noted that in the previous fiscal year, under de Blasio, the city expanded the crisis management program into 61 schools, 4 hospitals and several new precincts. Allon did not respond to a question about whether the city is targeting new precincts for the upcoming fiscal year.
Jeffrey Butts, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who has researched the crisis management system, said the city faces the difficult job of scaling up the program without losing its grass-roots bonafides.
“The ideal employee is a 35-year-old who did time in prison and now can talk to the 15-year-olds in the neighborhood about making choices,” Butts said. “That person is not set up to have all the skills to run a non-profit.”
That ideal person might look something like Andre T. Mitchell, the Brownsville-raised founder of Man Up!, who was named by the mayor this month as the city’s first-ever “gun violence czar.”
Prior to his appointment, Mitchell, who did not respond to a request for comment, made his feelings clear on the current level of funding for the violence interrupter programs.
“We’ve been doing as best as we can with the least amount of funding that we’ve been able to receive thus far,” he said in February. “And believe it or not, with that least amount of funding, we have been making significant strides.”