COLUMBUS, Ohio — “It’s a collaborative approach.”
That’s how Lori Francescon, Sean Stevenson, and Tommy Paige all describe their new roles with the Group Violence Intervention (GVI) program and the strategy they will use to implement this new initiative in Columbus.
“It’s influential community members, social services and outreach, along with law enforcement,” says Francescon, a former probation officer who worked in Franklin County Common Pleas Court for over 27 years.
“What we really need to target initially is what we call ‘the big, small stuff',” she adds. Those are the things that individuals need right now that we could redirect them away from committing the violence. And that could be temporary housing relocation, assisting with funeral expenses, Medicaid enrollment, a variety of different things.”
Francescon will serve as GVI’s Project Manager. Sean Stevenson is the outreach and support liaison with 25 years in gang and violence intervention in and out of prison. And Tommy Paige will be the law enforcement liaison after retiring from the Columbus Division of Police.
“I couldn’t walk away from policing and go off into the sunset and do nothing when people were getting hurt and killed,” Paige said to CrimeTracker 10’s Angela An during an exclusive interview with 10TV.
“When we look at the numbers and who was being impacted by the violence, I felt obligated to try to do something to fix it,” he added.
Stevenson has been trying to “fix” the violence for many years after his release from federal prison for a drug conviction. He was known to be an influencer on the streets, but this time as a promoter of peace.
He says GVI is different from programs of the past because of the proactive approach.
“The collaboration,” Stevenson explains. “Those were things that didn’t happen, that should have happened, and I think now because there’s three different channels that could get this done, I feel like we’re the glue to our city.”
The team said the goal is to intervene at those crisis moments and bring resources to those in critical need. GVI was a strategy created by criminologist David Kennedy of the National Network for Safer Communities (NNSC) at John Jay College in New York. He told CrimeTracker 10 in May that studies repeatedly show high-risk individuals associated with street groups and social networks typically represent approximately 0.06% of a city’s population even though they are associated with more than half of the city’s homicides.
The same holds true for Columbus.
10TV obtained a 9-month study of Columbus homicides conducted by Kennedy and his team at NNSC. It showed 17 active street groups operating within Columbus with approximately 480 individual group members. After analyzing homicide reports, the study confirmed 36% involved a known group member, 10% were suspected, 22% were unknown if a group member was involved, and 33% were confirmed to not involve any group members.
“GVI provides social services, intervention, reaching out to those that need help or are prone to be hurt,” Paige says. “We want to say – what do you need because your friends, what they’re doing right now is not working.”
Stevenson says the success must include bringing the right people to the table.
“You’ve got to speak to the people who have the problem,” he says with the experience of someone who created multiple inner-city programs to keep people out of crime. “We’re bringing services to them versus them trying to look for services."
Francescon says connecting with individuals soon after the violence and redirecting them is the critical time frame that GVI will try to target. She and her teammates are also not naïve to think that not everyone can be saved. But they hope their involvement will help keep more people safe, alive, and free.
“The missing link is love,” says Stevenson. “There’s no love in the community. There’s no love for self, nobody knows the value of life. We don’t teach it; we don’t speak of it.”
CrimeTracker 10’s Angela An interviews the three people hired by the City of Columbus to lead the new Group Violence Intervention (GVI) program. In this 30-minute discussion, they discuss why GVI will work to stop the violence as Columbus sets records for yearly homicides. From left: Tommy Paige, a 29 ½ year veteran of the Columbus Division of Police; Sean Stevenson, a reformed convict and now Outreach Liaison for GVI, and Lori Francescon, a former probation officer for the Franklin County Common Pleas Courts.
You can watch Angela's interview with Paige, Stevenson and Francescon below.