(The Center Square) – Memorial Day Weekend is the unofficial start of summer, when Chicago violence traditionally escalates. To head off violence and prevent potential crises, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Human Services are sending out a team of peacekeepers.
The Citywide Crisis Prevention & Response Unit is made up of 30-plus trained neighborhood “Peacekeepers” and street outreach partners, IDHS spokesperson Marisa Kollias said.
“The Chicagoland area is widely known to, unfortunately, see more violence kind of at the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend. And so this is a strategy aimed at keeping the peace,” Kollias told the The Center Square.
In a news release announcing the program’s launch, the governor said that the new CPRU effort is a community-based approach with the potential to have a high impact.
The origin of the unit goes back to 2018, when the city initiated the Flat Lining Violence Inspires Peace model, a program run by the Office of Firearm Violence Prevention, Kollias said. FLIP provides stipends to residents of high-risk neighborhoods and trains them to be proactive when tense situations develop.
The program members work with community-based organizations and city and state agencies to provide violence prevention and crisis support across Chicago, Kollias said. The presence of trusted and recognizable community members in hot spots of violent episodes has the potential to de-escalate volatile incidents before they get out of hand.
“We have seen phenomenal results through anti-violence programs previously so this is a newer effort we are activating over the weekend,” she said.
The program costs Illinois taxpayers $700,000.
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson said in a news release that the peacekeepers bring “valuable insight and knowledge that allows the city to reduce conflict before it escalates.” Pritzker said the effort is a “researched-based, community-focused” approach to help keep communities safe.
The peacekeepers are trained to engage with community members who are most at risk, Kollias said. In addition to their conflict and crisis response duties, CPRU staff will provide additional neighborhood-based work.
“By investing in holistic anti-violence strategies and partnering with local organizations, we are reimagining public safety and empowering neighborhoods in Chicago's most at-risk communities,” IDHS Secretary Grace B. Hou said.
The Reimagine Public Safety Act was implemented in fiscal 2022 to fund targeted investments in violence prevention services in Chicago’s high-risk neighborhoods. Some of the investments include tutoring services, recreation opportunities, engagement with positive adult mentors and cultural and artistic programs.