May 1, 2013

Merced ComVIP receives national award

Merced's Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Task Force was presented with a national award Wednesday by Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, for its local success with gang and violence intervention.

The Lois Haight Award of Excellence and Innovation was presented to the task force outside the Merced Police Department.

The program sets an example for other communities and has made the city a safer place to live, Costa said.

"The organization was chosen among many throughout the county as being a deserving recipient," he added.

ComVIP was formed as a response to gang activities and violence, Costa said. It educates the community about violence, promotes character development, provides information for families and works to reduce gang violence.

The program started in 2006, but stemmed from an incident in 2004 where a young man was killed near Olive Avenue and R Street, sparking community outrage. Jim Marshall, city manager at the time, served as host of a community brainstorming session to determine what the issues were and what needs to be done.

Out of those discussions, a group of about a dozen local leaders formed and created ComVIP, said Chief Norm Andrade of the Merced Police Department, who described it as a "grassroots effort."

"It was an opportunity for the community as a whole, and we had the people at the table who could make the decisions," Andrade said. "That's what makes this unique and innovative."

Andrade said the program's been going strong and has even branched out to Atwater, which has a similar organization. The long-range goal is for the program to spread to all cities within Merced County.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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