Chicago Expands Violence Reduction Committee Membership, Increases Transparency

This story was originally posted by The trace, a nonprofit newsroom covering gun violence in America. Subscribe to its newsletters here.

CHICAGO – After coming under scrutiny for secrecy and exclusivity, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Violence Prevention Planning Committee has expanded its membership and, as of today’s meeting ‘hui, will no longer work behind closed doors. The movement follows that of The Trace report in march on the committee’s lack of transparency.

The agenda and attendance records shared with The Trace show that since then the Lightfoot office has expanded the committee from 60 to over 100 organizations. The expansion includes more community and Latino groups. Previously, the committee consisted mainly of representatives from government offices, major violence prevention organizations and philanthropic funders. Violence prevention groups that initially did not receive an invitation, such as Acclivus and Project HOOD, are now listed as members.

“This is a good thing, [and] should have happened early on, ”said Lance Williams, professor at Northeastern Illinois University, who was unhappy that community organizations had been excluded from the original committee. Since the story published in March, he has been invited to join the group.

“I’m cautiously optimistic and just hope it’s not like a dog and pony show not to seem non-transparent,” Williams added.

William said he was not surprised by the invitation, as the initial composition and secrecy of the committee likely caused tension within gun violence prevention circles.

The change comes as Lightfoot continues to clash with city aldermen and the media. Emails posted last month following city communications hack during data transfer revealed messages of anger and reprimand that the mayor had sent to his staff. The emails also showed Lightfoot blamed the rise in gun violence in the city on judges releasing inmates from prison, despite the decline of its own staff.

Lightfoot formed the committee last summer to make sure the city was on the right track to achieve its violence reduction goals. Its willingness to expand it and provide more transparency contrasts sharply with the administration’s response this spring, when its press team repeatedly doubled down on the committee’s need for confidentiality.

“These biannual meetings remain strictly consultative and due to the important nature of this work, the members of the committee are better able to freely express their ideas, their concerns and to inform each other of their work in progress in this framework. public, ”the team said in a statement earlier this year.

Following several high-profile mass shootings across the country, the fight against gun violence has taken center stage, from New York to San José. Cities are grappling with a sustained increase in shootings that began before the pandemic. Likewise, the Biden administration has made public safety a top priority and contacted Lightfoot following a mass shooting in the city earlier this month.

The mayor’s office again declined an official interview for this story, but agreed to answer questions via email. A spokesperson for Lightfoot said the committee had expanded to “allow for a more comprehensive dialogue” and that the changes took effect several weeks ago. The June 29 meeting will not be broadcast live, but will be recorded and made public in early July. An agenda shows the committee will discuss how the city will spend the money from the US bailout, Biden’s pandemic contingency plan. At least part of these funds will be used to combat gun violence. The spokesperson declined to share how much the city has received and how the money will be spent, but said the mayor will make an announcement in the “coming weeks”.

The spokesperson said Lightfoot’s office plans to release a report on the committee’s progress this fall.

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