The Cook County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved legislation that would create a Cook County gun violence coordinator and establish a 15-member task force to help generate solutions to the county’s wave of gun violence-related injuries and deaths. The Oct. 28 decision came a day after President Barack Obama’s address to the International Association of Chiefs of Police in downtown Chicago.
“It is easier in some communities to find a gun than to find fresh vegetables at a supermarket,” Obama said during the address. “That is just a fact.”
Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st), who introduced the proposal, said that he believes the coordinator position is the first of its kind in the country. He had amplified his call for the creation of the position in the days leading up to the vote. On Oct. 26, he met with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez at Dart’s headquarters in Maywood, where they discussed various public safety problems and jointly called for the board to vote on the proposal.
“People have come to testify about the urgency of doing something like this and today the Cook County board heard the people who said, ‘This is intolerable, we’ve got to change it.’ I’m very glad Cook County is moving in this direction,” said Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (7th), the chairman of the board’s criminal justice committee.
Boykin had been advocating for the creation of a gun violence coordinator for several months. Since his election last November, the commissioner has been vocal about the rash of gun violence throughout the county, particularly in low-income areas like Austin.
Last summer, he made waves when he called for charging shooters and their accomplices as domestic terrorists. The proposal was one part of his seven-point plan to curtail gun violence, which also included other proposals — such as utilizing more sheriff’s police in high crime areas and stiffening penalties for people who illegally possess firearms.
Boykin said that Sheriff Dart will have the power to appoint the gun violence coordinator, which the commissioner said could happen within a year. Boykin also noted that all costs associated with the coordinator and task force will come out of the Sheriff’s department’s budget. Dart’s office hasn’t yet released any budget figures, or disclosed any potential candidates, for the position.
Although it isn’t clear what kind of enforcement authority the position will have, Boykin said the office will help bring down bureaucratic barriers and bring people from various government units together to work on solutions to gun violence.
When asked what kind of benchmarks will judge the coordinator’s success, Boykin said ultimate accountability will come from taxpayers.
“Everybody’s watching,” he said. “All of the citizens of the City of Chicago and the county of Cook are watching. Obviously, we want to see the numbers come down and if the numbers come down, that means that this task force and this gun violence coordinator are working.”
Tio Hardiman, the former executive director of CeaseFire’s Violence Interruptors program, said the creation of a gun violence coordinator is long overdue.
“I salute [Commissioner Boykin’s] efforts as it relates to reducing homicides in Chicago, because never before have you had a violence prevention coordinator to work with existing agencies and to measure the results of their collaborative effort,” he said. “Too many lives have been taken and it’s about time for a position like this.”