The city is restructuring its approach to violence prevention by bringing public safety initiatives that are spread across several departments into one central location, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Thursday.
Public safety programs and related agencies will come together under the newly created Community Safety and Coordination Center. All projects that can help address violence will be “living under one roof,” Lightfoot said.
“This new center will act as a city resource nerve center and central location for violence interventions across Chicago,” Lightfoot said.
The center will bring together and amplify many of the investments being made to address community violence and the conditions that allow violence to exist, Lightfoot said.
This year, the city has invested $52 million in violence prevention programs that include strategies such as street outreach, victim services, targeted interventions for youth, gender-based violence programs, housing initiatives and diversion programs, Lightfoot said.
In addition to housing those programs, the center will coordinate other community support initiatives like youth programs, physical and mental health services, parks, libraries, schools and workforce development opportunities, Lightfoot said.
“We will break down silos and have more [360-degree] visibility across vulnerable communities and thereby be better able to see the problems and solve them,” Lightfoot said.
The Community Safety and Coordination Center represents a new “whole of government approach” that hinges on collaboration between all city agencies as well as non-governmental partners in the efforts to end street violence, Lightfoot said.
The whole-government approach is “borrowing pages from [Chicago’s] COVID response” because, similar to the coronavirus pandemic, “systemic inequities are at the root of many of the problems we are facing,” Lightfoot said.
Labor unions will have a role, as job readiness programs will be part of the center to help city agencies bring employment opportunities to communities most vulnerable to violence, said Keith Richardson, president of the Chicago Postal Workers Union.
“The centralized coordination of resources is an essential step in getting our most at-risk residents meaningful employment opportunities that can steer them away from a life of violence,” Richardson said.
Similar to the pandemic response, the city will take a data-driven approach that is rooted in hyperlocal community partnerships, said public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.
“We want to take the approaches we’ve used in COVID, take those lessons, take the ideas everyone has, get coordinated and try to implement them,” Arwady said.
The city is assembling a steering committee made up of community leaders to guide the development of the center. The committee will mirror the Racial Equity Rapid Response Team convened to address the disproportionate impact the pandemic had on Black and Latino communities.
“To truly reduce violence, you need everyone to be bought in and on board,” said Frank Perez, director of Violence Intervention and Prevention at UCAN. “No organization, government or community group can make a serious dent by themselves.”
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