Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart and other local and state officials announce the Gun Violence Prevention Initiative Team at a press conference in Waukegan Friday morning. | Provided Photo

The Lake County state’s attorney announced a new initiative that aims to reduce gun violence in the Waukegan, North Chicago and Zion areas by hiring at least 10 “violence interrupters” that will provide services to the three Lake County communities.

Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart, along with other local and state officials, announced the Gun Violence Prevention Initiative (GVPI) team at a press conference in Waukegan Friday morning.

“This initiative is one part of our county’s plan to partner with the community and law enforcement and to address the root causes of gun violence and to implement proven short term and long term strategies to immediately interrupt the cycles of gun violence,” Rinehart said.

Rinehart was joined by many state and local officials like Congressman Brad Schneider, State Representative Rita Mayfield, Senator Adriane Johnson, Illinois Department of Human Services Office of Firearm Violence Prevention Assistant Secretary Chris Patterson and Chair of GVPI Implementation Sara Knizhnik.

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The program will provide services, like mental health counseling and job training, to the most at-risk individuals “to work, to mentor, to guide and to teach,” Rinehart said, adding that services will be taken to these individuals “wherever they are.”

Lake County has seen an unprecedented level of increased gun violence since 2017, with 21 gun-related homicides and 28 suicides by firearm in 2021, the highest ever recorded in both categories for the county.

Rinehart said gun violence is “becoming a tool to settle social media disputes or to retaliate for past shootings.”

The Lake County Board used funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the state through budget allocation to invest $1.06 million in the program.

The money will be used to help maintain a team of at least 10 “violence interrupters” in Lake County to help reduce street violence in Waukegan, North Chicago and Zion.

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Violence interrupters are street-level staff that works with high-risk individuals to resolve conflict and reduce gun violence, and they will “work closely with law enforcement to focus on hotspots, to mediate disputes and to prevent retaliation,” Rinehart said.

Marcus McAllister, who was raised in the Waukegan/North Chicago area and has been involved with many similar programs for nearly 20 years, will be tasked with training the county’s team of violence interrupters.

“This job, when I became a violence interrupter, it changed me. It was something bigger than me to give back,” McAllister said.

“Mediating conflict in North Chicago, mediating conflict in Waukegan, they gave me a chance and I wasn’t going to let them down,” McAllister added.

Rinehart said community-based organizations will be able to submit applications early next week to receive funding and help manage the program.

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Additional funding from state, federal and private grants to sustain the program will be sought during the first two years of the initiative, the state’s attorney’s office added.