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Fresno Councilmember Wants to Pull Urban Peace Funds After Graduate Arrested
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By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 3 weeks ago on
April 1, 2024

Fresno City Councilmember Mike Karbassi wants to pull Urban Peace Institute's funding after a recent grad was arrested. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)

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A Fresno City Councilman wants to pull funds for an anti-violence training program.

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“It’s an absolute mockery of the taxpayers. There’s absolutely no reason for us to continue funding a group like this. It’s just too risky.” — City Councilmember Mike Karbassi

GV Wire reported last week that a recent graduate from the Urban Peace Academy was arrested both before and after the March 22 graduation ceremony. Thomas Ray Roland Sr. attended the 40-hour training session.

On March 13, Roland was arrested on burglary and firearms charges. After appearing in court on March 26, he was re-arrested with more charges added. He bailed out of jail both times, for nearly $500,000 total.

Karbassi said he is “extremely concerned (about) programs like this” because of apparently lax vetting processes.

“It’s an absolute mockery of the taxpayers,” Karbassi said. “There’s absolutely no reason for us to continue funding a group like this. It’s just too risky.”

Fernando Rejón, Urban Peace Institute’s executive director, responded to Karbassi’s assertions.

“Urban Peace Institute trains participants to adhere to professional standards of conduct and practice. These standards help set the standard for violence intervention workers to ensure they remain safe and effective.  Violation of standards can lead to immediate revocation of certification by UPI,” Rejón said.

Asked if his organization vets participants, Rejón said the city of Fresno or “community-based organizations that send individuals for training are required to vet participants prior to training.”

Rejón would not elaborate which CBO sent Roland. A city of Fresno spokesperson said the city didn’t send Roland to the training.

UPI did not learn of Johnson’s arrest until March 25, after the graduation. Standards set by UPI tell participants not to engage in illegal activities.

UPI standards. (Urban Peace Institute)

City Council Approved Last December

On Dec. 14, 2023, the city council approved 7-0 a $300,000 contract with the Los Angeles-based Urban Peace Institute, which operates the academy. The funding came from state grants.

The only questions came from City Councilman Miguel Arias, who asked if a more locally-based program existed..

During a brief debate, both Shelby MacNab from the city’s parks and recreation department, and City Manager Georgeanne White, informed the city council about the training program.

“We trusted staff to have done the vetting process. We thought, you know, they would have at least covered this,” Karbassi said to GV Wire. “The measure is to reduce recidivism, but there have to be some standards. You can’t just be a free-for-all all, and you should not be allowed to commit crimes while you’re in the program.”

Ultimately, Karbassi said, responsibility falls on the Urban Peace Institute. He said he is unlikely to support UPI, or the similar Advance Peace program, again.

Karbassi estimated that Urban Peace Academy has spent $40,000 thus far.

Rejón said approximately 25% ($75,000) has been used.

Sheriff Critical of Program

Roland is also being investigated for burglaries in northwest Fresno, where a gun safe was taken. The sheriff’s department said deputies found Roland with 25 firearms, including those from the alleged burglary.

He is scheduled to return to court on April 10 or 11, but he has yet to be formally charged for either March arrest.

Karbassi said the alleged firearm discovery is a “sticking point” for him.

When the GV Wire story broke the story last week, Fresno County Sheriff John Zanoni heavily criticized the program.

“The vetting process, the background process for this Urban Peace Institute probably needs to be updated and be a little bit more rigorous so you can weed out people like Mr. Roland,” Zanoni said.

Court records show that Roland has a long criminal history, starting in the late 1990s when he was a juvenile. He has been in and out of prison, for various crimes including DUI, evading police, and battery.

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David Taub,
Senior Reporter
Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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