Victor Saunders talks about Rochester’s plan to reduce violence

ROCHESTER, NY – The man tasked with making a major dent in the problem of violence in the city of Rochester lays out his game plan.

Hand-picked by Rochester Mayor Malik Evans, it’s more than a job for Victor Saunders, who pours his heart and soul into his new role as the mayor’s special adviser on violence prevention programs.

“We’re going to be intentional in what we do,” he said. “We are going to make sure that all the interventions and preventions that we put in place are best practices and that we have the data to back them up. I’m in no rush to set a record, but I’m in a rush to save a life.

Saunders is well aware of what he is doing, at a time of dramatic increases in crime and a community grappling with violence-related trauma on a level it has not seen in decades.

“Naturally, it’s a complex challenge that we have right now,” Saunders said. “It has been exasperated by the COVID pandemic, as well as, you know, a lot of conflict resolution skills in a lot of people in our community. For years, we have had interpersonal conflict as the root cause of many of our violence and homicides in the city. The availability of illegal firearms has plagued the entire country. We are therefore not exempt from it. Structural racism. Poverty. Food insecurity. All these different things that lead to the socio-emotional aspects of the work that we’re going to be working on.

The effort is a work in progress, but Saunders offers some immediate next steps for the coming months, including:

  • Framing the stages of intervention, from early/youth intervention to the reintegration of parolees
  • Continue to align and establish agreements with violence prevention organizations
  • Identify gaps in violence prevention and define approaches to address them
  • Develop a comprehensive strategic plan

And Saunders identified clear, measurable results for his work with Mayor Evans’ administration, including:

  • Increase employment in the most affected areas
  • Extended vocational training and employment opportunities
  • Increase in the number of young people participating in conflict resolution training
  • Decrease in homicides across the city

“I believe the lack of hope in our young people allows them to make choices they wouldn’t otherwise make,” Saunders said.

“We will be working from the early intervention component in schools, as well as with our tougher core teams coming out of the Office of Child and Family Services. I currently work with probation and the Day Reporting Program, and I try to really work with individuals that you see on the news who are charged with, you know, carjacking and shooting. Things of this nature. So as immediate as possible.

“We want to provide alternatives for young people to try things they may not have tried before. We’re really going to work hard and diligently to wrap our arms around these young people inside school, outside school, at R centers and the like in a way that they understand that we we care.

Mayor Evans says he’s grateful Saunders brings his experience to the role.

“I’m proud and humbled to have the opportunity to represent my city and I will never stop,” Saunders said. “Never.”

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