GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A task force group in Grand Rapids is hoping additional funding and a new approach will help reduce crime involving teens in the city.

“Any loss of life is always difficult but to especially to hear that it was a 16-year-old young person is always difficult for this city,” City Commissioner Milinda Ysasi said.

The teen was a victim in a Monday afternoon homicide on Leonard Street, located on the city’s northeast side. It is believed that the group of young boys involved in the shooting knew each other. A witness told News 8 that he saw four boys. Three of them were riding on bicycles and approached another young man who was walking down the street. After a brief conversation, the witness says he heard gunshots.

According to a spokesperson with the Grand Rapids Police Department, the shooting marked the fourth fatal shooting this year in the city where the victim was a teenager. The ages range from 13 to 19 years old. That is concerning to Ysasi.

While police department doesn’t track crime statistics by age, Ysasi and the community believe there is an uptick in violence with teens as the suspects.

“We know that these interventions need to happen younger and younger because we see those that are engaged in some of these violent acts or being the victims of them range from 11 to 17, certainly older than that, but we want to target that age,” she said.

Ysasi is a member of the SAFE task force (Safe Alliances for Everyone). It’s a group that consists of community leaders who are working to combat crime involving teens and young adults.

“There’s not one lever to pull that’s really going to reduce this. We have too many guns on our
street, too many illegal guns. We have straw purchases that are happening. We have gun stores that have been broken into,” she said.

In May, the city approved adding $50,000 to the task force’s budget for the fiscal year, which gives them $150,000 total to work with to meet the needs of the community. In previous years, the money has been used to fund different programs and initiatives that are focused on engaging with those who are involved in violent acts. Now, they are looking into other ways to approach the issue.

“How do we engage mothers and families in these processes,” Ysasi said.

The group is also looking forward to having a gun buy back day. A date hasn’t been set for that event.

“Gun buy backs alone aren’t going to stop the violence in the city but we heard from residents and neighborhood associations that people would like to get rid of the guns, illegal guns,” she said.

The task force actively works with the police, school and criminal juvenile systems and neighborhood associations to remove illegal weapons off the streets and give youth more positive activities to get involved in but solving the issue is a weight the entire community must carry.

“Everybody wants the same thing. A safe place, a safe park, good schools for their children. They want their kids to be able to be out in the yard. Now it’s all up to each one us to see what can we do best,” Ysasi said.

GRPD Chief Eric Winstrom is set to make a report on July 26 to the commission of his first 90 days in office. That report will include an update on crime in the city.