Baltimore’s spending board on Wednesday approved a contract between the city’s public safety office and Roca Maryland, shoring up a key partnership that will help the city expand a promising policing anti-gun violence strategy.

The $900,000 contract clears a significant hurdle for the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, which outlined its plans for a citywide expansion of the flagship Group Violence Reduction Strategy at a year-end press conference in December.

Roca Maryland, a nonprofit that works with young adults considered to be at a high risk of being shot or shooting someone, is one of two service providers in the strategy, along with the Youth Advocate Programs. Focusing on young adults between the ages of 16 and 24, Roca uses “cognitive behavioral theory,” a technique informed by the science showing that young adults have brains that are still in development.

As part of the group violence strategy, Roca connects at-risk young people with support in areas such as employment, housing and education, in an effort to stem conflicts before they erupt into gunfire and offer them a path out of cycles of violence and incarceration.

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City leaders attributed a 33% drop in gun violence in the Western District last year to a pilot program of the strategy, and a Baltimore Banner analysis found evidence to support that it was having an impact.

But tensions between the mayor’s public safety office and Roca delayed a new agreement and cast a shadow over plans to expand the program. The Massachusetts-based organization was informed by the city in November 2022 that it was no longer invited to status meetings on the Group Violence Reduction Strategy and that it would not be receiving new referrals through the program, executive director Kurt Palermo told The Banner last year.

The Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement said Roca has resumed work with new clients referred through Group Violence Reduction Strategy.

Delayed in part by rocky negotiations, the contract’s approval comes nine months after the agreement was supposed to begin.

The new contract expires at the end of the fiscal year this June. That means the city and Roca will need to go through contract negotiations annually, a spokesperson for the mayor’s public safety office said.

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In a statement released by both groups, the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement and Roca said they “stand proud to forge ahead in the service of young Baltimoreans through Baltimore’s Group Violence Reduction Strategy.”

“Today’s Board of Estimates outcome affirms the unwavering dedication of both Roca and the City of Baltimore to take a public health, community-centered approach to trauma reduction and violence intervention, especially amongst our highest risk young people,” the statement said. “We look forward to continuing the work, alongside partner Youth Advocate Programs Inc. (YAP) to deliver Baltimoreans most at-risk of being either the perpetrators or victims of gun violence the opportunities they need to make the decision to step away from a life of violence and remain safe, alive, and free.”

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