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Lake County’s new Gun Violence Prevention Initiative now accepting applications for ‘violence interrupters’

Chicago Tribune - 11/22/2022

The process to hire a team of “violence interrupters” to intervene and de-escalate conflicts before gun violence erupts in Waukegan, North Chicago and Zion is officially underway.

Five months after Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart announced the ambitious Gun Violence Prevention Initiative in June, he called the program’s implementation “critical to the short-term safety and long-term security of our communities” in Lake County.

Made possible by local, state and federal grant dollars, including an initial funding commitment from the Lake County Board, the program will be managed by the Coalition to Reduce Recidivism and the Waukegan Township.

Waukegan Township Supervisor Marc Jones said the role of the township and the Coalition to Reduce Recidivism — a community-based organization made up of members of social service agencies, faith organizations, educators, workforce developers and others — will be to serve as the program’s fiscal agents and administrators.

Jones said the township will handle the application submissions and will oversee their review, the hiring process and identify a space to base operations while following guidelines set by the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office.

“We’ve been given the responsibility to sort of build a house that doesn’t have a foundation,” Jones said. “We have an opportunity to not only lay the foundation, but build upon it.”

GVPI implementation chair Sara Knizhnik, a gun violence prevention activist who was also just elected to the Lake County Board in District 18, wants to see the adoption of more gun violence prevention programs around the county.

“This is only the beginning,” Knizhnik said. “Eventually, we want community violence interruption programs everywhere in Lake County where they are needed. But we have to start somewhere, so we are starting where the problem is most acute, which is Waukegan, North Chicago and Zion.”

She said that the GVPI wants to work to address conditions or situations that lead to violence and that the Coalition to Reduce Recidivism and Waukegan Township were ideal partners for the county because of their experience with wraparound services to those impacted by gun violence and the legal system.

“What they do focus on is reducing recidivism, and that’s part of the root causes of gun violence, when we’re not effectively addressing recidivism,” Knizhnik said.

She believes the program cannot only address gun violence affecting Waukegan, North Chicago and Zion, but also help mitigate the potential for gun violence in other areas of Lake County over time.

“People, no matter where they live, are in fear of becoming victims of gun violence,” she added.

Jones said he was hopeful the GVPI would be so successful that it could land enough resources to become self-sustaining and make a long-term impact on reducing violence.

Those interested in applying for the program manager role or to be one of 13 interrupters, who will receive training from national violence prevention programs, can access Waukegan Township’s application portal under the “Employment Opportunities” tab of its website.

Marcus McCallister, a consultant who trains violence interrupters across the United States, said strong candidates for the jobs would be people who live in the communities they would work in, have relationships with people in the community at risk of and affected by violence and the qualities necessary to de-escalate potentially dangerous conflicts.

He emphasized the importance of attracting the right people for the job and said it could take some time to identify, interview and hire a “good core of people that want to be trained at a real and want to do this, that are passionate about it, but also have the skills and the ability to do it.”

“These are not security guards we’re hiring that will have a shift and they know they’re going to be posted (somewhere),” McCallister said. “No, you have to be ready to use your relationships and build off those relationships to intercede and try to prevent violence.”

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