As county readies Advance Peace recommendation, community members lament delays

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Update: Shortly after this article was published, County Commissioner Mark Polsdofer forwarded an email that included a copy of the recommendation for Peckham, Inc., a Lansing-based nonprofit vocational rehabilitation organization, to operate the Advance Peace program. Under the proposed authorization, Peckham, Inc. would subcontract with People Ready Activating Youth, another nonprofit applicant, to operate the program's Peacemaker Fellowship. The recommendation was originally scheduled to be made public on Monday as part of the agenda for a Jan. 13 meeting of the Board of Commissioners' Law and Courts Committee.

LANSING — About four months after opting to restart its bidding process, Ingham County officials plan to recommend an area nonprofit next week to lead a highly anticipated gun violence prevention program.

Ingham County has been working to implement Advance Peace, an evidence-based program designed to stem cyclical and retaliatory gun violence by intervening directly with individuals who are closest to the violence.

More: 'It's worth a try': Ingham County considers intensive mentoring program to stem gun violence

All in all, the program's initial budget amounts to about $1.95 million, which the county, the city of Lansing and Advance Peace pulled together through a mix of local, state and nonprofit funding sources.

The program was initially slated to begin Oct. 15. Before the work can ramp up, though, a selection committee must tap a nonprofit organization to receive the allotted resources and run the fellowship. Some community members, as well as the founder of the program itself, say this step has taken unnecessarily long, raising concerns about the process.

A series of delays

A request for applications (RFP) was first sent out to 27 nonprofits last July. Two groups ultimately submitted proposals — The Village Lansing and NorthWest Initiative.

The applicants were evaluated by the county's RFP evaluation team, which included individuals from the City of Lansing, Ingham County, the Michigan Public Health Institute and two parents who lost children to gun violence.

In September, following a month-long selection process, the group unanimously voted to select and recommend The Village Lansing, a southside-based nonprofit focused on addressing youth violence, to run the program. At the time, officials said the other nonprofit did not meet all the requirements of the request for proposals.

A resolution authorizing The Village Lansing to run the fellowship was on the agenda for a Sept. 16 meeting of the county's Law & Courts Committee. According to public minutes, however, that resolution was abruptly removed from the agenda prior to the start of the meeting.

Weeks later, Ingham County Controller Gregg Todd told the Lansing State Journal county officials decided they did not receive enough bids and did not give organizations enough time to apply. The process reopened shortly after and applications were due back Nov. 15.

More: Ingham County: Anti-gun violence program in Lansing stalled due to low response from nonprofits

About three months later, there are now four Lansing-based nonprofits in the running: The Village Lansing, Peckham Inc., Eastside Community Action Center and People Ready Activating Youth.

The RFP evaluation team also has undergone significant turnover.

Ingham County Deputy Controller Teri Morton, a member of the RFP evaluation team, the team has shrunk from 10 to eight members — three from the City of Lansing, two from Ingham County, two community members who've been impacted by violence, and one from Advance Peace. Four members of September's RFP evaluation team are no longer part of the current panel.

"The changes from the last team were due to staff turnover and scheduling availability," Morton said in an email.

Morton said this week that the recommendation will be officially announced at the county's Law & Courts Committee meeting next Thursday. She said it will appear ahead of time on Monday when the county posts the meeting's agenda online.

“Everyone’s anxious to get the program up and running, but ... we don’t want to rush anything," Morton said last month. "It’s taken a while to get stuff done, but we want to get it done right."

Personal disputes prompt questions

The co-founders of The Village Lansing, Erica Lynn and Michael Lynn Jr., have disputed the county's explanations for rebidding the program last year.

"We have to remember that they knew that there were only two applicants for over a month up to (that) point," Erica Lynn said.

The Lynns, who are married, have raised suspicions on their podcast, "Merica 20 to Life," that politics may have been involved in the county's decision to rebid the program.

They are vocal critics of Lansing mayor Andy Schor, having consistently called for his resignation and backed his political rivals in last year's general election. In addition, Michael Lynn Jr. is a plaintiff against the city in multiple lawsuits alleging racial discrimination. Lynn was terminated from his role as a Lansing firefighter last year.

Weeks after the resolution was abruptly pulled from county commissioners' docket, Schor told Lansing City Pulse that commissioners had asked him about his relationship with Michael Lynn Jr. and he gave an "honest answer," but he didn't try to sway any decisions.

On Wednesday, Schor said he has had "basically zero involvement" in the decision-making process. However, he acknowledged that he had approved the three sitting city employees on the RFP evaluation team.

He said he didn't recall when he spoke with commissioners about his opinions on Michael Lynn Jr., but that he meets quarterly with the city of Lansing's county commissioners.

"I'm always willing to offer my opinions as I am with any issue anywhere," Schor said. "If somebody asked me my opinion, I'm happy to give it, but I'm not a part of the decision-making process. It is the county's decision."

On Wednesday, Ingham County Commissioner Mark Polsdofer, who was chair of the Law & Courts Committee in September, said commissioners chose to pull resolution then because The Village Lansing's initial proposal only had two references, while the RFP required at least three.

That reason was not included in the official minutes of the meeting.

Erica Lynn said Wednesday that was not a reason The Village Lansing had been given over the previous four months. The only reason they had heard was the need to provide more time for other groups to apply.

'We're very concerned'

Advance Peace, a nonprofit organization, was founded in Richmond, California by Lansing native DeVone Boggan. A Lansing Eastern High School graduate, Boggan came up with the program amid a wave of violence during his tenure leading the Northern California city's Office of Neighborhood Safety.

More: Neighborhood safety leader Boggan knows how tempting revenge can be

The initiative is informed by data-driven research, which demonstrates that in communities with high rates of gun violence, a small number of people tend to be involved in a high percentage of shootings.

As homicide rates have risen, the percentage of cases resulting in arrests have fallen. According to the FBI, the nationwide murder clearance rate fell from 61% in 2019 to 54% in 2020.

Boggan said the program reaches individuals at the center of cycles of violence who have "avoided law enforcement's reach."

"The fact of the matter is, most of them — more times than not 70% to 80% of the guys suspected of shooting, injuring and killing — remain on the streets," Boggan said. "And so, if that is true, then what that suggests is law enforcement alone can't and isn't able to create a criminal consequence for those responsible. We must have other tools in the toolshed that ... help us get to that kind of place."

According to an information packet, Advance Peace uses its Peacemaker Fellowship to connect those closest to the violence with mentors, in an effort to stabilize their lives. Together, they develop a life plan to achieve educational, professional and other personal goals. If the fellows remain in the program and out of trouble for six months, they become eligible to receive a monthly stipend ranging from $300 to $750 per month, which can increase to up to $1,000 with continued involvement.

At the end of 18 months, the fellows start an internship, setting them on a path towards self-sustainability and away from gun violence.

"Monthly earning amounts are based on a fellow's individual effort and work associated with LifeMAP goal achievements," according to the packet. "Fellows who don't perform, do not earn. For those who underperform, they earn accordingly."

In the cities where it's been implemented, Boggan said the program has helped bring about, on average, a 20% to 40% reduction in gunfire.

But in order for Advance Peace to work as intended, the program's founder said it's imperative that those in charge select an organization with a demonstrated track record of doing similar — if not exact — work with the communities and even with individuals who are most impacted by the gun violence epidemic.

"Trust is the currency," Boggan said. "If trust is broken, if trust isn't established, if trust is hard to establish ... with the impacted community — if it's absent or it's threatened — this will not work at the end of the day."

He said he's deeply concerned with the way the process has been handled in his hometown, which he said has been unlike that of any other city where Advance Peace has been implemented.

"I haven't seen a process like this with so many starts (and) stops," Boggan said. "Because of the ups and downs of the process so far and the personalities associated with this process so far, we’re very concerned about the authenticity of the right organization at the local level being selected to facilitate the work."

'Different worlds at play'

In the meantime, those working directly to prevent violence say that the delaying of the Advance Peace program has cost lives.

The Lynns, who already engage in violence interruption and intervention in their work at The Village Lansing, said there are people who have been killed or injured in shootings in recent months whom they believe they could have helped with Advance Peace resources.

"That tells you right there the impact of every day that goes by," Lynn Jr. said.

He emphasized the importance of relationship-building in violence prevention work.

"That's the goal, to have those relationships that have been built over years and trust and them watching you and seeing that you're not a faulty person," he said. "That's what you move on."

Derrick "DJ" Knox, Jr., chairman of the Michigan Poor People's Campaign, said he believes the delays are indicative of the differences between people who are most affected by violence in Lansing and those who are removed from the most traumatizing impacts of it.

"When you're in a position of privilege, that affords you the opportunity to be able to wait out things like this that are literally life-threatening," Knox said. "Here, we literally see lives that are being impacted by the funding that isn't being made available because there is no real sense of urgency."

"You see the different worlds at play here. A world that can wait for Advance Peace funding and programming ... and then another world, our world — that usually reflects the BIPOC and poor populations — that needed this stuff yesterday."

Contact reporter Jared Weber at 517-582-3937 or jtweber@lsj.com

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: As Advance Peace nears second recommendation, some lament delays

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