Calif. City Pays Young Men in Exchange for Not Pulling the Trigger

Richmond, California, once one of the deadliest cities in America, is trying a controversial tactic that offers financial incentives to a select few to prevent shootings.
10:19 | 04/06/16

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Transcript for Calif. City Pays Young Men in Exchange for Not Pulling the Trigger
Tonight, a revolutionary new approach to curbing street violence in one California city. Paying young men who are often armed and potentially dangerous not to shoot. Bringing arch-enemies together. Defusing the lethal anger that can be sparked by something as simple as a Facebook post. Here's my "Nightline" co-anchor Byron Pitts with our series "Face to face." Reporter: Dewan race is just 19 years old but he's already had to say good-bye to seven friends, each one murdered. And he's fed up. That's cold, bro. Reporter: Today he's paying his respects to two brothers buried in one plot, shot dead on the same day. He tells us he didn't cry when they died. But the tears are coming now. And something else. Anger. What are you thinking? What are you feeling? Pain, man. Like real pain, bro. You know what I mean? Make me want to act in violence. Reporter: Watch closely. Grappling with an urge to avenge his friends' violent murders, dewan pulls out his phone. He's about to make a life or death decision, whether to call his boys and retaliate. Have to sit back and I have to think whether to go left or whether to go right. Five bullets came from a white mazda. A brother and sister shot to death in Richmond last night. Reporter: This potent mix of pain, anger, and teenagers with guns making dewan's hometown of Richmond, California at one point one of the deadliest cities in America. Here the streets are hunting grounds. Corner after corner young men run for their lives. Those puffs of smoke, bullets. Chased by an armed rival. And here a calculated hit is under way. Two men calmly walking before they open fire. Lighting up the night. Every night on the news you'd think this was Beirut. You'd be afraid to come to this city. Reporter: In 2007 the city brought in Devone bogan who came up with a controversial solution. Pay the young men like dewan not to pull the trigger. Oh, yeah. Reporter: That's right. The better the behavior, the better the paycheck. Ain't that funny? Reporter: This month dewan got the maximum. $1,300. Congratulations, bro. Good for you. Thank you. Reporter: That day at the cemetery he chose not to avenge his friends' death. Everything you do is going to have a reaction. You know what I mean? And a consequence. You're on first check status. Reporter: Dewan is just one of two dozen men in an 18-monthlong fellowship that's run out of Devone's office of neighborhood safety or O.N.S., mostly funded by taxpayers. Right here, boom. Reporter: The people we've spoken to who believe it is wrong to pay a kid not to kill somebody. Well, that's not what we do. In fact, I never tell a young man to put his gun down. Their job is to get their lives together. I painted all those cabinets right there. Reporter: Dewan also got a real job. When the people come in here and they move into their house they would never know that a little black kid from Richmond did it. You know what I mean? They'd never know. Reporter: Progress for a young man who was first arrested at age 12 for armed robbery. He says he was homeless and stole an iPhone to help his single mom pay the bills. Devone says he was well known on the streets. A serial shooter. That's what they would say. I called him a leader, a hunter. That's what they would call him. I called him brilliant. Working to survive. To help the fellows navigate life or death choices Devone enlisted men like James Houston and Sam Vaughn, who themselves have rap sheets for violent crimes. Let me tell you, city hall was like what? We're going to be looking to hire men and women who may have murder in their background? Reporter: Their background one of the things that makes them particularly suited to the most crucial part of their job, interrupting violence. The fellow calling tells James he thinks he's being hunted. What kind of car? Reporter: A car filled with suspected rivals parked in front of his house. Unarmed, Sam and James put their lives on the line to stop a potential shooting. We're told to keep our cameras down because the young man asked us not to show his farks his house or his name. I'm telling you seriously, take my word. But I'm telling you -- yeah, but what I'm saying is you're -- Whatever it is right here. Just a dead man walking. Let us try to deal with this. Reporter: Sam and James stay with him until he calms down. For a minute it was a hard choice. But then again, I had to really think about it. It is a cry for help. It just isn't the typical one. Because they don't want to do something but they feel like they have to. Reporter: In a five-year period the number of homicides dropped 76% across Richmond. A number that can't be attributed to O.N.S. Alone, but O.N.S. Says the proof that their approach is working, the vast majority of fellows are still alive. So we want to expose them to a world where they go from I don't give a to a place where maybe I do. Reporter: Dewan's been doing so well he's qualified for the next huge reward in the program, an all expenses paid trip to D.C. And New York City. But there's a catch. You have to be willing to travel with someone that's trying to kill you or that you're suspected of trying to kill. Go to school every day. Reporter: Dewan will be paired with marico Williams from a rival neighborhood. New York. Yankee thing. Reporter: So far 18-year-old marico has not been shot, but his mother fears it could be a matter of time. I worry a lot. Every night, every day. I pray. What's your biggest fear? That I have to bury him. Reporter: O.n.s. Is about to bring together marico and dewan for the first time for a pretrip meeting. Each joined by another fellow in the program from their own neighborhood. The change agents stay close by. A face-to-face meeting like this can turn deadly in an instant. You feel me? Because now y'all making it seem like we tripping and y'all tripping and we making y'all trip. Reporter: Dewan says marico's crew disrespected one of dewan's murdered friends on Facebook. Social media posts have been a flash-point for violence here in the past. Why the Are you tripping? You feel me? Reporter: Finally, marico and his friends agree that the post should be deleted. So we set? Yeah. Reporter: Navigating this conflict with words, not violence, is a big step for these young men. Without this program we would have never met. We would have never had an encounter like that. It would have been negativity. How do you guys get along now? How? You and the guys in the program. Because we have a conversation. You can settle difference that's maybe in the past might have been settled with guns you settle -- Talking it out. Whoop di whoop. Boop di whoop di woman. The settled. The change agents say many of the fellows in the program still carry guns for protection. How do you square that with if you are trying to teach them how to function in society but yet they're still strapped. Right now we're trying to teach them not to deal with their conflict with violence. I'm not saying it's okay. But I'm saying I understand your reality. Reporter: But so many armed men on the streets -- Relax. Reporter: -- Is not a reality police here are comfortable with. I don't know what they're doing on the street level. They're kind of on their own track. And we're on ours. Reporter: We're with them when a routine traffic stop -- There's a point where like asking people nicely to stop -- Reporter: -- Turns into an armed standoff. Close the door. Close the door. What did I do? Put your hands up. Put your hands up! It's a firearm. Reporter: The driver has a gun out in plain view. Put your hands up! Reporter: Not uncommon in Richmond where protection from being hunted can be more important than hiding the weapon from police. Don't move. If you move you're going to get shot. Do you understand? Reporter: Luckily, he obeys. I didn't do anything. Step out. Step out of the car. Put your hands behind your back. Put your other hand behind your back. Put your other hand behind your back. Reporter: In this car four men, two guns. No shots fired this time. Revolver. He may bail out before I even get off work. You know? And there's two firearms recovered in the vehicle. Reporter: Other cities struggling with gun violence, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Oakland are now asking Devone for his help. Is there any sense maybe you're coddling these kids who need a firm hand, who in some instances perhaps need to be incarcerated? Absolutely. Their growth and development requires a little coddling, coaching, discipline. That's what they get here. My late mama would call that love on these boys like parents. Brother, Byron, that's exactly -- it's not that hard. These young men shoot because when they shoot they matter. It's when we pay attention to them. Reporter: It's finally time for the big trip to the northeast. Feel like a million dollars. Reporter: So many firsts. Far from the streets of Richmond, the rivalries and reality of living there seem to dissipate. Ba-ba-ba-ba blue strips. People say what's your theory of change? Blow these young men's minds on life. Show them what's possible. Show them what's possible. Reporter: From the corridors of power -- to the skyline of New York City. I'm on top of the world. This is broad. You know what I mean? I've never seen nothing like this before. Reporter: Perhaps a new perspective on the world, each other, and what's possible for a life well lived without violence. They don't come back kumbaya home, home team. But they come back and it's Byron and Devone. Not that sucker from across town. Not sucker. Reporter: It's a lot harder to shoot someone you know, respect, maybe even like. Can you maintain that, though, when you get back? Definitely. This is a revolution. You know what I mean? A new era. Reporter: For "Nightline" I'm Byron Pitts.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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