Advance Peace moves closer to reduced anti-violence funding from City of Fresno

'They've stopped shootings... They've curbed a possible race riot. They've made southwest Fresno safer.'

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Friday, August 12, 2022
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The City of Fresno is a step closer to funding Advance Peace after a see-saw battle and questions about the anti-violence group's trustworthiness.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The City of Fresno is a step closer to funding the anti-violence initiative called Advance Peace after a see-saw battle and questions about the group's trustworthiness.

At City Hall Thursday, the city council postponed a vote on funding anti-violence programs, but some voices that opposed funding Advance Peace have apparently changed their minds.

When a teenager shot a 12-year-old boy at a house party in west central Fresno last month, police rushed to the scene.

So did Aaron Foster from Advance Peace.

"We know the problem," Foster said. "We know the solution. We have to engage the shooters. And the shooters are becoming younger and younger."

Foster says he stepped in to ensure cooler heads prevailed and his community didn't respond to violence with more violence.

RELATED: 12-year-old badly wounded in shooting at birthday party in Fresno

Advance Peace calls their employees "change agents."

They say they've prevented retaliation in dozens of cases, including after a deadly shooting at the Bowlero bowling alley in February.

And they had a lot of support at City Hall Thursday.

"They've stopped shootings," said Reza Nekumanesh. "They've curbed a possible race riot. They've made southwest Fresno safer, something our city has yet to be able to do in all of these years."

But Mayor Jerry Dyer removed almost a million dollars in proposed funding for Advance Peace in the current city budget.

The mayor said the program works, but he pulled away from the group after employee Leonard Smith was arrested and charged in a murder conspiracy as part of a big operation.

RELATED: Advance Peace employee among dozens of defendants arrested in 'Operation No Fly Zone'

Now, the city's parks department wants to invest $1.5 million in anti-violence programs.

Advance Peace would get one-fourth of that funding.

And even Councilmember Garry Bredefeld got on board after making sure the money won't pay to give direct stipends to gang members.

"It sounded like there aren't stipends as part of this," Bredefeld said. "This is, stipends aren't involved with this $375,000 that would go to Advance Peace. Is that correct?"

That is correct, according to Aaron Foster and city parks officials.

And Police Chief Balderrama tells us he's on board now, too, despite saying earlier there's a trust issue with Advance Peace.

"I am very supportive of violence prevention programs which add to the efforts of what police are trying to do, which is to prevent violent crime," he said in a statement to Action News. "I am hesitant on moving forward with a partnership with Advanced Peace until established accountability and output measures are established and implemented. In speaking with EOC, AP, and the City Manager's Office, I'm hopeful this is a possibility. The police can't solve every social issue or do it alone, we need these types of programs in existence."

But the funding is still on hold.

Councilmember Tyler Maxwell postponed the vote until another council meeting because he wants to make sure the other groups getting money are scrutinized as heavily as Advance Peace has been.