Kent Co. leaders call for more resources to help youth

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Community leaders said at a Tuesday news conference they believe the mental health toll caused by the pandemic is tied to the increase in crime in the Grand Rapids area.

Several leaders came together to call for funding and resources for initiatives to engage young people. The leaders said they believe the lack of engagement has contributed to the rise in crime.

Grand Rapids Urban League President Joe Jones, who is also a Grand Rapids city commissioner, noted several initiatives to help young people have often operated on a “shoestring budget” and hopes people will “lean in” to help.

Jones said leaders have requested the county use funding from the federal CARES Act to address the issues related to gun violence.

The area has seen a slew of break-ins at auto dealerships, cellphone stores and other types of businesses this summer. Authorities said many of the suspects are teens.

The city says they hope to secure $750,000 annually, at minimum, to implement a crime prevention strategy called Cure Violence. The initiative uses disease control methods to prevent crime. It’s currently being used in cities like Baltimore, Chicago and New York City.

“Kids don’t have anything to do. A lot of times, we say it’s the summertime, this wraps up. But many schools are not going back full time. And even if they are in school, what are they doing after school,” said Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker.

Becker noted eight who have been charged in the recent break-ins have been juveniles and four older teens have been charged as adults.

“These kids that we charged, we are losing a generation,” said Rev. Jerry Bishop of Lifequest Ministries. “While we’re asking for collective effort and collective collaboration, what we really need is collective investment into the audience we’re talking about.”

Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young noted the increase in crime isn’t just an urban issue, noting that firearms have been stolen, leading to more illegal guns on the streets.

“The only real resolutions to the issues that we have going on right now is to help find our young people find productive, constructive things to do and find hope for their own future so that they don’t put themselves at risk,” she said.

It has also been an unusually violent year in Grand Rapids with 22 homicides within the city limits so far, making it one of the city’s deadliest years ever.

Chief Eric Payne said many of the crimes are being solved, but his department also wants to help prevent incidents before they occur.

“During COVID, our officers were told for safety reasons to pull back. What I’m here to say is we are starting to engage,” Payne said.

“This has been talked about for years. It’s time that we come together and make that happen, whether it’s Cure Violence or some other form of that. We need to do things differently,” Payne added.

Jones says the goal is to begin rolling out programs associated with the Cure Violence initiative before the end of 2020. The city is still working to determine what those programs will look like.

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