“One village is enough.” A glimpse of increased efforts to quell gun violence with SNUG

ORISKANY – Past the farm silos along Cider Street, a former airport hangar that has been transformed into an imaginary city has been transformed into a “cityscape”.

In this staged setting, law enforcement officers practice dangerous situations within the confines of the facades of the fictional Rosterfield High School, the Red Stripe Bar & Grill, and the Bean County Courthouse. Officers conduct active fire drills and search and rescue missions at Readmore Books and the Boom Town Café.

But last week, the hangar was filled for the first time with state-funded “violence interrupters,” many of whom are formerly incarcerated individuals with long histories entangled in New York’s criminal justice system.

The dozens of people gathered there, including several training to be part of Albany’s SNUG program, were part of the state’s increased efforts to address gun violence outside of more traditional measures that normally focus on l increased police resources.

During a break from their week-long training, they participated in a press conference with Governor Kathy Hochul and State Criminal Justice Services Division Commissioner Rosanna Rosado and Homeland Security Commissioner and emergency services, Jackie Bray.

“Law enforcement will always be critical to our response to threats, but equipping law enforcement cannot be our only focus,” Bray said of the SNUG, which is set to see three times. its normal funding in the state budget being negotiated on Capitol Hill.

Absent from the training forum, no debate about the cause of the recent spike in gun violence, or the controversies that have engulfed state bail laws.

Less than a year ago, former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a state of emergency over gun violence – a declaration that is still pending – as he was plagued by outrageous allegations that have led to his resignation.

Hochul extended the state of emergency, which allowed the state to distribute money to help community organizations deal with problems stemming from the fallout from the outbreak of violence across the state.

These emergency funds are now expected to become typical funding going forward, based on Hochul’s executive budget proposal which includes $224 million to address gun violence.

Most of that money would be spent on law enforcement, including hiring more police; the governor has been criticized by his gubernatorial contest and the Republican Party for not being tough enough on crime.

Some of the money, $25 million, would “triple the investment in community response to gun violence,” according to the governor’s office. Of this amount, approximately $16 million is intended to strengthen the reach of SNUG, which was originally budgeted at $4.5 million last year.

“You will be on the front line in the fight against gun violence and we are all counting on you,” Hochul said as some of the trainees waved their phones to broadcast the event to their friends back home.

After the speeches were over and a group photo was taken, four people from Albany participating in the “SNUG” training sat down to discuss what brought them there and what they had learned so far. .

Governor Kathy Hochul announced March 9 that the state’s new SNUG Street Outreach program employees will be deployed to sites in Albany, Buffalo, Hempstead, Mt. Vernon, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Rochester, Syracuse, Troy and Yonkers. Hochul met the new staff and delivered virtual remarks during the team training earlier today. Essence Harris, 35, is training to join the SNUG team in Albany. (Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)

Mike Groll/Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

“Four people sitting here with a crime at some point in their lives who were seen as the problem,” said Essence Harris, 35.


SNUG generally recruits people who were previously involved in crime in the community and have now committed themselves to being a credible messenger within that community.

The employees, with their street experience and criminal backgrounds, strive to prevent problems from escalating into violence. If there are acts of violence, they seek to raise awareness and end any acts of retaliation which often leads to an endless cycle of violence in inner city communities.

The SNUG program is funded by the same pot of money that pays for the state police. Many law enforcement officials hail their efforts that augment what the police do, but allow SNUG volunteers to operate in a role that leaves them detached from law enforcement.

SNUG’s credibility solidified two years ago for Harris.

Her nephew was stabbed to death in Albany in March 2020. SNUG was the first group to help her, she said. They stayed with his family late into the night.

The fatal stabbing was part of a record series of homicides in the city in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic as the implementation of new criminal justice policies intended to create more fairness in the courts stumbled.

The violence in Albany and across the state prompted the state legislature to declare gun violence a public health crisis; the executive chamber began funneling more money to community resources to ease concerns.

Since last summer, the SNUG has increased its membership by more than 50%. It now has approximately 175 employees. In Albany, the staff nearly doubled, to 21, according to the Division of Criminal Justice Services. This includes people like Harris.

“It’s the first time I had a job where I could get a job based on what I’ve been through,” Harris said. “And this is the first time I’ve done a job that I don’t have to be ashamed of not having a college degree. I don’t have to be ashamed of having gone to jail.”

Community groups are concerned, based on interviews over the past few months, that they may see a drop in funding they sometimes struggled to use during the surge in violent crime last summer.

“It’s an emergency, it’s a crisis and we’re tackling it from both sides,” Rosado, the DCJS commissioner, said in an interview. “We are arming law enforcement and we are also arming street crews.”

If the Democratic-controlled legislature agrees to Hochul’s spending plan on gun violence, especially around the SNUG, it should mean new outposts in Schenectady, Niagara Falls and Utica.

It would also mean nearly two dozen responders working in hospitals or trauma centers and increased funding to help people with both immediate needs, like a winter coat, and long-term needs, like a sustainable employment.

A first priority for new SNUG members is to make amends so they can uplift their communities.

“I taught these kids a lot of things they do,” said Lafayette Jackson, 42. “I’m embarrassed to say this. So now I’m here trying to clean up my mess.”

He reached his breaking point when one of his greatest fears came true: his mother died while he was in prison.

Jackson said he lost control. He was not allowed to attend the funeral, which left him with no sense of closure around his mother’s death. He shifted his focus. He earned a GED and then an associate’s degree in business.

When he was released from prison but said he had no resources. He eventually found SNUG and sought to give back after recognizing his background.

Devon King, Jr. was one of the people Jackson taught, but also someone he retired from street life.

“I’ve done wrong for most of my life,” King said. “I’m 36 now. I have six children and a wife. I don’t want my legacy to be that I didn’t do everything in my power to not only improve the lives of my family, but also that of the children around me.”

King felt like he had failed his parents, his children, and himself by never graduating from high school or college. When he received a letter of acceptance from the Albany SNUG program, it was a turning point.

“I don’t know if you still have your copy, but I actually framed my copy,” King said. “It’s the only time that something says something I did wrong, or puts it in a good light, and says I’d be perfect for a job. It changed my life. And with pay behind.”

King and Dennis Plowden go back 15 years, they said.

Governor Kathy Hochul announced March 9 that the state's new SNUG Street Outreach program employees will be deployed to sites in Albany, Buffalo, Hempstead, Mt. Vernon, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Rochester, Syracuse, Troy and Yonkers.  Hochul met the new staff and delivered virtual remarks during the team training earlier today.  Dennis Plowden, 38, is training to join the SNUG team in Albany.  (Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)

Governor Kathy Hochul announced March 9 that the state’s new SNUG Street Outreach program employees will be deployed to sites in Albany, Buffalo, Hempstead, Mt. Vernon, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Rochester, Syracuse, Troy and Yonkers. Hochul met the new staff and delivered virtual remarks during the team training earlier today. Dennis Plowden, 38, is training to join the SNUG team in Albany. (Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)

Mike Groll/Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Plowden, 38, said for many teens, SNUG programs remain relatively unknown, despite the best efforts of state and local partners.

“All they know is just go out and prove themselves to someone, just to be accepted,” Plowden said. “That’s what it’s all about. They don’t want to be mean. They just want to be accepted.”

He hopes that SNUG, with the growth of the Albany-based team, can address the underlying issues they’ve encountered growing up in the community.

“There’s a stigma in every ghetto,” Plowden said. “There’s also a stigma that nobody cares on this side, on the government side. That’s not always true.”

Jackson, the eldest of the group, quipped, “When you’re out there, you’re one of those kids, you think the whole world is against you.”

He described partner organizations and state agencies under one roof last Wednesday in the fictional village town of Oriskany as people coming together from their respective silos for a common good.

“You think nobody supports you, you think nobody cares,” Jackson said. “People care, it only takes one village to raise a child.”