YONKERS N.Y. ? A program to steer at-risk New Yorkers away from the streets and a life of violence has helped reduce the number of homicides in Yonkers to one in 2012.
Mayor Mike Spano and City Council member Christopher Johnson have agreed to give $100,000 to the anti-gun violence program Operation SNUG (guns spelled backwards).
With the support of the Yonkers Police Department, SNUG played a part in reducing homicides by 39 percent in its first year. The program has since helped to reduce gun-related crimes in Yonkers’ “target zones” by 72 percent.
The Yonkers SNUG program operates out of the YMCA , and its premise is to change mindsets, said YMCA SNUG program manager John Thompson.
“Our guys are out in the streets trying to change and save lives every single day and night,” said Thompson. “Much of our work is doing outreach in schools and centers for troubled youths throughout Yonkers. The other part is being a positive force in the streets without being armed. We try to stop violence to begin with, but then also try to stop violence from escalating once it begins.”
The program has received a total of $575,000 from state and city funding since its inception in Yonkers in 2010. After the program's funding expired on Dec. 1., Johnson pushed to keep it operational for the next six months.
The recent shooting in Newtown has caused many communities to address gun violence, and Yonkers is taking the issue very seriously, said Johnson.
"Sandy Hook was not the beginning, and this program isn't a beginning. It's a continuation of our efforts to make sure shootings are a thing of the past,” said Johnson. “I pushed for the funding once there was money available because it's helping to keep our community safe, and it's keeping our youth alive and out of jail."
There is an open conversation between the Yonkers Police Department and the SNUG team, said Yonkers Police Commissioner Charles Gardner.
"We have a multi-tiered approach to dealing with gun violence in Yonkers,” said Gardner. “Shootings are significantly down, and it's because of programs like SNUG. We cooperate with the team and give them tips on what's going on because sometimes they know the streets better than we do."
We need to address assault rifles and start monitoring bullet production immediately, said Yonkers City Council President Chuck Lesnick.
“Just like SNUG is guns spelled backwards, I think that the gun laws in our country are also backwards,” said Lesnick. "Nothing proactive is going to happen unless the government is united together, which is why I'm happy to be a part of this to help save lives and get some real change.”