ALBANY PARK — Shootings have fallen in the 17th Police District, and incoming violence interrupters hope to continue that trend when the program launches in 2021.
Alliance of Local Service Organizations, a nonprofit, is working with Metropolitan Family Services to build out the team of violence interrupters who will be active in the Albany Park area starting Jan. 1.
Tara Campbell, the alliance’s resilience program manager, explained the holistic approach the nonprofit takes towards public safety during a Tuesday meeting organized by the North River Commission.
“We really pride ourselves on hiring credible messengers,” Campbell said.
The alliance looks for community members with the similar backgrounds as people most at risk for violence. Once those messengers are identified, vetted and trained, they can build community relationships and dissuade people from resorting to violence, Campbell said.
Violence interrupters work around the clock in their areas to defuse conflicts and respond to shootings to understand why they happened and attempt to prevent retaliatory violence, Campbell said.
That’s key for residents of Albany Park, Irving Park and Ravenswood Manor, which have experienced a surge in gun violence this year, with 61 shootings and 11 homicides reported in the police district as of Sunday. There were 28 shootings and five homicides at that point of 2019, according to police data.
The alliance hired a supervisor for the violence interruption efforts in Albany Park and is in the process of vetting community members for interrupter roles.
When a shooting occurs, the alliance also deploys a separate team focused on offering victims and their friends and family trauma-informed support services.
“We have very different roles from the police,” Campbell said. “The work is slow and steady, and we take baby steps in order to do this work.”
Campbell’s nonprofit also offers resources, like youth employment and re-entry support to help people transitioning from incarceration into their community. But trust must first be established for youth to want to take advantage of these resources, Campbell said.
“And we cannot do this work without community partners,” Campbell said.
While the number of shootings in the area fell in November after city officials acceded to pleas for more police resources, many neighbors continue to push for more violence interrupters for lasting public safety.
A petition launched in September asked city leaders to invest more money in community outreach, housing stability and violence interrupter programs instead of more officers to address the violence. It has received more than 700 signatures as of Thursday.
“I think, in the long run, these programs are the ones that are most effective,” said Lisa Hilleren,who moved to Albany Park a year ago. “It’s really good to hear they’re going to the neighborhood, giving local folks jobs and leveraging relationships that already exist.”
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