NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) — An anti-violence program is coming back to Niagara Falls with plans to reduce gun violence. The funding, which could be up to $500,000, comes from the 2023 New York State budget.

SNUG is a program that looks to prevent gun violence among young people through mediation while also helping neighborhoods affected by this type of crime.

Locally established in the early 2000s, SNUG was established to cut down on gang violence. Over time, Buffalo SNUG shifted shape and partnered with ECMC, and Niagara Falls SNUG dissolved.

The prevention outreach program expands to areas that see an uptick in violence, which is one reason why it is coming back to the Falls.

“It’s kind of been on the radar that Niagara Falls needs it,” said former SNUG leader Pastor James Giles. “In fact, we had a young man killed over on 9th street over the weekend,” he added.

Now, compared to when the program started, Giles says they see many individual shootings.

“Meaningless altercations can turn into a shooting, where before, people used to walk away, no big deal,” said Giles. “Now, they’re pulling a gun before a gun gets pulled on them.”

Current leaders with SNUG say social media plays the biggest role in mediating situations. If they see heated conversations, pictures of weapons, or potential fights, outreach workers with SNUG Buffalo will reach out to those involved to ease the tension.

“All of our outreach workers, specifically speaking to SNUG Buffalo, are outreach workers from the community,” said SNUG Site Administrator Paula Kovanic Spiro. “We live in a very tight, small/big city. They know these individuals, they might know their friends, they might have a relationship.”

Kovanic Spiro SNUG watches for high-risk participants. Those qualifications include

  • 14-25 years of age
  • Active in a street organization
  • History of violence
  • Engaged in high-risk activity
  • Weapons carrier *if someone is a weapons carrier, they are not required to meet any other criteria
  • Recently shot
  • Recently released from prison

While the new program in Niagara Falls is still developing, Kovanic Spiro estimates both programs will collaborate to reach as many as possible, as ECMC is Western New York’s only Level 1 trauma center.

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Abby Fridmann is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in November 2020. See more of her work here and follow her on Twitter.