The City of Champaign is implementing a multi-million-dollar plan to combat local gun violence focusing spending on its street outreach program intended to aid ailing, high-risk young people.
Outreach workers will also be responsible for connecting those in target groups to services included in the budget, such as access to basic needs – food, shelter and clothing – as well as job training, substance abuse treatment and mental health services.
The the City approved the 44-page plan, “The Community Gun Violence Reduction Blueprint,” or the ECHO blueprint, in February 2022.
As a public service, CU-CitizenAccess delved into the details of the report, which has not been widely reported on.
The blueprint provides local shooting statistics and lays out three central goals, as well as an annual $3.2 million budget for achieving them.
In 2021, the number of gun violence incidents broke records in Champaign with a total of 259 shooting incidents – a 37% increase from 2020, and a more-than-double increase from 2019.
Continuing trends this year show a slow-down for local gun violence, with about half as many shootings in the first seven months of 2022 compared with 2021. While the surge is being observed across the country, Champaign’s rates rank high, especially compared to similarly-sized cities.
According to the blueprint, the majority of the local shooting victims are disproportionately young Black men between the ages of 15 and 35. The lethal impact of this local gun violence is consistent with statistics nationwide.
A study conducted by the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence said gun violence is the No. 1 cause of death for Black men aged 55 and younger.
Black men are not the only minority group disproportionately affected by shootings. For Hispanic/Latino males under the age of 34, gun violence is the second leading cause of death.
Addressing inequity is the core of blueprint
The issue of gun violence is intersectional, with causes that are deeply rooted in history, stemming from segregation and systemic racism. Champaign’s blueprint cites social and economic inequities that contribute to the issue, as well as discriminatory policies like exclusionary zoning, redlining and mass incarceration.
The root causes were further broken down into several core factors: income inequality, poverty, underfunded public housing, under-resourced public services, underperforming schools, lack of opportunity and perceptions of hopelessness, and easy access to firearms by high-risk people.
A compelling part of the document was the series of maps, which highlights the intersectionality of socioeconomic “community indicators” such as unemployment, income and housing, in areas where gun violence is prevalent. The maps show where the shootings occurred and how they have localized to certain neighborhoods from 2016 to 2021.
The maps provided in the blueprint supported the findings in CU-CitizenAccess’s interactive map from 2021.
When the individual maps are overlaid into one, the disparity between shootings in majority-minority neighborhoods versus majority white neighborhoods becomes strikingly clear.
According to the report, the citywide median family income is about $75,000, which is more than double that of the median income for Black residents, a pattern not unique to Illinois cities. These neighborhoods below the median income for C-U were specifically highlighted in one of the maps.
Those same neighborhoods are the ones where shootings have localized.
The concluding pages of the document break down the three central goals into more specific objectives and identify the budgets and actions being taken for each objective. The salaries for project directors and other staff members are included in each goal’s budget, as well as all additional expenses such as travel and supplies.
Goal 1 of the plan is to “prevent and reduce gun violence and promote public safety.” The city is implementing “street outreach programs” to connect with target groups, which are defined in the blueprint as individuals likely to be involved in interpersonal violence through mentoring and advocacy. This portion of the plan comprises the largest portion of the budget at approximately $2.7 million.
The outreach workers, also referred to as “gang interventionalists,” will spend time in the communities in places where target groups hang out. The blueprint cites the success of other similar outreach projects such as Chicago Ceasefire, a program that led to fewer shootings and reduced gang involvement in homicides.
This section also discusses stopping the issue of gun violence early, with more support for high-risk youth. Champaign will be giving 15 scholarships worth $10,000 each to students who are “out of school”, typically kids who had to drop out for a variety of reasons.
In addition to focusing on those prone to involvement with gun violence, the city presented objectives for providing resources to formerly incarcerated people with a risk of re-offending.
The city will collaborate with correction, parole, probation and other reentry services to implement or improve on existing programs that help reintegrate offenders into the community.
Goal 2, “Community Engagement and Support,” aims to improve community relationships and integrate services to those facing unemployment, substance abuse, domestic violence and other difficult issues at home. The budget for Goal 2 is $100,000.
As stated in a footnote below the budget chart for Goal 2, these services are already in place and only included for “monitoring purposes.” The $100,000 budget will pay the Crime Stoppers’ “Gun Bounty Reward Program,” which provides cash rewards to people who provide tips leading to arrests in homicide cases or cases in which guns are involved.
Goal 3 aims to “ensure the most effective use of available and potential resources.” This objective entails monitoring the state of policies, practices and programs through assessment and collecting data. The estimated budget for Goal 3 is $355,000.
These city-led projects will undergo periodic evaluations to make sure the funding is being put to best use.
The city is funding the plan through reserves from The American Rescue Plan Act, which provides states with economic relief funds and long-term investments following COVID-19. The City will review the budget for any needed amendments in the future because the plan occurs annually.