GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When temperatures start to rise, typically so do violent crimes, which is why the West Grand Neighborhood Association is working to educate people in the community ahead of the warmer summer months.

“We (have) really been working on gun safety and violence in our neighborhoods this past summer,” said Annette Vandenberg, the organization’s executive director. “We were really concerned about it because the year before, we had almost 40 homicides in the city of Grand Rapids.”

Although the numbers have dropped since a record high in 2020, one killing is one too many.

“We’re just really trying to educate the public,” Vandenberg said. “We value the Second Amendment, obviously, but at the same time, we need our kids to be safe and so we have to teach our kids how to be safe. We have to be able to teach adults and remind adults that they need to lock up their weapons.”

During WGNO’s recent Lock it or Lose it campaign, Vandenberg said there was a significant decrease in car thefts. 

“We knew by educating the public and giving them these regular reminders of locking up your vehicle and removing your valuables, we could reduce car theft, and we did. So, we figured we would take the same approach and look at areas where significant shootings are happening, or the shots fired calls are being placed,” said Vandenberg.

With the help of a $10,000 grant and working with the Grand Rapids Police Department, they are using a similar approach in areas with lots of shootings or shots fired calls. The campaign, which will feature billboards and posters throughout the city will read “Own IT? Respect IT. Secure IT.”

The West Grand Neighborhood Association is preparing to launch a campaign to reduce gun violence in the city.

Vandenberg said the number one reason guns are on the street is that they are being accessed by someone other than their legal owner because they weren’t properly secured. GRPD recovered more than 750 firearms in 2021 and more than 200 firearms were reported stolen.

“We’re working right now with My Brother’s Keeper about those types of things and making sure that people can get trigger locks, can get cable locks and potentially even get car safes,” said Vandenberg.

It’s not just gun owners they want to educate, though. 

“It’s really important that not only we teach the adults about securing it but teaching kids what to do if they come across the gun,” Vandenberg explained.

Going along with the campaign, WGNO is working on hosting a series of training sessions for both kids and adults. Vandenberg hopes to collaborate with local schools, churches, and other organizations to make the city safer for everyone.

“I think if we can all work together to help deescalate the situations that are occurring and remember to love and respect one another and just treat each and every person as a person and show genuine respect and kindness, I think we can do a lot to reduce violence,” said Vandenberg.