GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Later this week, Grand Rapids city leaders are expected to hear ideas from the community about how to reduce violence in the city.
After a summer marked by gun violence, 17 nonprofits and city residents are expected to pitch their proposals to reduce crime to the city’s SAFE Task Force on Wednesday night.
The task force, which is dedicated to eliminating violence in Grand Rapids, wants to focus on preventing young people between the ages of 12 and 24 from becoming involved in crime.
SAFE Task Force Co-Chair and Second Ward Commissioner Milinda Ysasi said criminals have become younger in the city in recent years.
“As we continued to work with the police department, our county prosecutor who was a part of this group, there was a recognition that the individuals that engaged in a crime were actually seeming to become younger,” Ysasi said. “What that told us is that we needed to work with those that are engaged in these programs, creating these programs, and say, ‘How much younger are you going or where is that intervention starting.’ And so this is based upon what we’re seeing in our city.”
By investing in young people, Ysasi says the city will be investing in the future of Grand Rapids: one with less violence.
“It makes much more financial sense as a city, as a state, and really as a country, to focus on that early intervention because we will end up paying for the lack of investment in the long run,” Ysasi said.
The event is happening between 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation on Madison Avenue Southeast. The task force will choose five winners who will each get $10,000 to turn their ideas into reality next spring and summer. That fall, the city will evaluate how much the programs have worked and decide what to do with them going forward.
The city has dedicated at least $130,000 to these programs, Ysasi said.
“I would still say that Grand Rapids is a safe city, and we’ve been noted for our efforts,” Ysasi said. “And we also need to understand there are root causes to crime.”
Ysasi said some proposals are centered around creating more sports programs and other activities with positive social interaction.
“So looking for a diversion, another alternative,” Ysasi said. “That was one of the early findings of SAFE; there were not a lot of pro-social emotional activities for young people to engage in.”
Another is about preventing convicted felons from reoffending or influencing younger people in their family.
“While that group is not in the 12 to 24 (age group) … they’re also coming back into their families,” Ysasi said. “What does that interaction look like with the young people in their life?”
Another idea is focused on curbing rising domestic violence to help kids living in those homes.
“How do we not make that a norm at home?” Ysasi said. “Because the idea is that might be happening and violence overall seems like a norm in the household.”
A different group wants to make sure guns are properly locked up at home to prevent kids from accessing them. That’s what happened in the city’s West Side in May, resulting in the accidental death of a 13-year-old boy.
“(It’s about) working with our neighborhood associations to create a positive communication plan to really encourage people to lock up their guns, to be safe with their guns, to make sure it doesn’t get in the hand of a young person,” Ysasi said.
Ysasi said she’s happy with how much the community weighed in, putting forward a significant number of proposals to reduce crime.
“We know that all of these pitches are not the resolution to gun violence in our city, but we know it’s important to have people, organizations and young people to be a part of reducing gun violence in our community,” Ysasi said.