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In Chicago visit, Attorney General Garland announces $78M anti-violence initiative

Merrick Garland speaks at a podium
Dilpreet Raju
Capitol News Illinois
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland addresses the second annual Community Based Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative conference. Garland highlighted federal investments in community-based organizations focused on stemming gun violence.

In a visit to Chicago on Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced $78 million in federal grant funding for community-based anti-violence programs.

Garland, a Chicago area native, made the announcement while speaking at the second annual Community Based Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative Conference featuring community violence intervention on-the-ground workers from across the country.

“We have made historic investments in evidence-based, community-centered initiatives aimed at preventing and disrupting violence. In the last two years alone, we have delivered nearly $200 million to support life-saving programs,” he said.

Garland announced Wednesday that the application window had opened for the $78 million that will be distributed across the country in fiscal year 2024. For fiscal year 2023, the Office of Justice Programs – a federal agency of the U.S. Department of Justice – dispersed more than $15 million for community violence prevention and intervention programming to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, community-based organizations, nonprofits and universities in the state.

“Today, I want to do something that I wish I could do more often. That is, to focus on some good news,” Garland said. “Thanks in part to the hard work of the people in this room, and so many others outside it, we are starting to see meaningful results in the effort to reduce violent crime.”

“The FBI reports that last year we saw significant decrease in overall violent crime across the country compared to the previous year, including an over 13 percent decline in homicides,” he said.

Garland was joined by Eddie Bocanegra, DOJ community violence intervention senior advisor and former director of violence prevention program READI Chicago. READI, which stands for Rapid Employment and Development Initiative, looks to decrease violent crime by enrolling at-risk individuals in career readiness courses and cognitive behavior therapy and providing stipends.

“I want to celebrate the life that our profession restores to people and places that have been historically oppressed and marginalized,” Bocanegra said.

He praised frontline workers such as outreach staff who connect people to community violence intervention programs as the “muscle” of community violence intervention. These workers often don’t have formal degrees in social work or behavioral therapy, but life experience with gun violence that is crucial to engaging participants, Bocanegra said.

He didn’t mention it in his speech, but a study published last fall by the University of Chicago Crime Lab found outreach workers were able to reduce the expected number of shooting victims and associated arrests.

“For one subgroup — men referred by outreach workers — the declines in arrests and victimizations for shootings and homicides clearly pass standard statistical significance thresholds,” the study, entitled “Predicting and Preventing Gun Violence,” reads.

The study makes a point to stop short of naming READI a difference maker in overall violent crime for the city, stating, “We cannot conclude with certainty that the version of READI evaluated here decreased serious violence.”

However, there is “evidence that READI reduced arrests for shootings and homicides, with the estimated effect being just beyond traditional statistical significance cutoffs.”

Assistant Attorney General Amy Solomon doubled down on the need for community-driven initiatives.

“Our goal here is to make sure that federal support is reaching the communities that are too often overlooked and underfunded – the same communities where violence takes the heaviest toll,” she said. “It's about reaching the organizations that reflect those communities, are designed to serve them, are located within them and are closest to the problems that we seek to solve.”

Garland also announced the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will soon be publishing its third volume of the National Firearms Commerce and Trafficking Assessment, which Garland called “the most comprehensive look at America’s crime gun data in over two decades.”

“The report finds that the flood of illegal guns into our communities is increasingly driven by individuals who sell guns without a license and who do not conduct background checks,” Garland said.

Information on the upcoming $78 million pool of grant funding can be found here. Municipalities, townships, nonprofits and universities are among those who may apply. More information can be found here.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Dilpreet Raju is a reporter at Capitol News Illinois.