Lake County launches violence interruption program in northern suburbs

Teams of ‘violence interrupters’ will patrol crime hotspots in the northern suburbs by the end of the summer as part of a million-dollar program announced by county officials on Friday. Lake.

The Gun Violence Prevention Initiative, funded by a state grant and federal COVID-19 relief funds, will train and pay 10 outreach workers who are expected to hit the streets later this summer, the prosecutor said. of Lake County State, Eric Rinehart. The launch of the program comes as gun violence has increased in the northern suburbs in recent years – albeit on a smaller scale than neighboring Chicago.

So far this year, there have been six fatal shootings in Lake County — out of a total of 11 homicides in 2022 — with more than 80% of all shootings concentrated in Waukegan, Zion and North Chicago. (With about 87,000 residents, Waukegan is the county’s largest city.) The county ended 2021 with 21 fatal shootings, a 33% increase from 2020 and more than five times the number from 2019.

“I have people saying to me, ‘Throw them all in jail,'” said Rinehart, a former public defender elected in 2020 on a reform platform. “Well, you can’t do that if they haven’t done anything yet. It’s an investment in prevention, doing something before the balls are in the air.

By a 21-0 vote, the Lake County Board approved $560,000 for the program in April, and the state awarded an additional $500,000, though the county has yet to choose a partner organization to administer. funds. Waukegan native Mark McAllister, who worked for the organization Cure Violence for years, creating awareness programs across the United States, will lead the training. Outreach workers will be recruited from the ranks of former gang members or returning criminals; both are seen as “credible messengers” who can mediate violent conflict.

Variations of the switch model have grown in popularity since the early 2000s, thanks in part to the sometimes mixed success of Cure Violence, a Chicago-based organization that has tackled violence as a public health issue. The idea is that violence spreads within groups like a disease, with switches serving to break the chain of transmission.

As crime rose during the pandemic, even as protests against police brutality swept the country following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, policymakers poured more money into switch-type programs. In Chicago, these organizations will approach $190 million in funding from charitable foundations, state and local funding, and the number of outreach workers citywide is about 200.

Recent research from the University of Chicago showed a significant drop in arrests and acts of violence among men who participated in the READI Chicago program, which sends outreach workers to the city’s south and west neighborhoods to find residents most at risk either to get shot or to shoot someone. Workers at READI and more than a dozen similar organizations are following up after breaking up the conflict by recruiting at-risk people into a program where they are paid to attend daily therapy sessions, job training and to advice.

Mayor Billy McKinney said he and his police department look forward to the day the switches hit the streets of Zion. The suburb, which has fewer than 50 police officers, recorded 182 incidents of “shots being fired” in 2021, including 27 times when people were hit by gunfire.

“We can’t wait for something to happen to act,” McKinney said. “Our police force, they understand who the players are and the jams they have. Being able to have someone who can get together with these groups and talk to them is key.

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