RACINE – Yes, gun violence is up. Yes, local leaders are determined to break the cycle of violence through a variety of approaches. Yes, the public is urged to get involved.
Those messages were delivered – and repeated – at a community update meeting for the Violent Crime Reduction Initiative (VCRI) before an audience of about 200 at Festival Hall on Wednesday evening.
The VCRI was launched by the City of Racine and Racine County on May 26 in response to a spike in violent gun crime in the Racine area, that had included six homicides. Wednesday’s meeting was co-hosted by Racine Mayor Cory Mason, Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave and Racine Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Eric Gallien. Presentations were made by Racine County District Attorney Patricia Hansen, Racine Police Chief Maurice Robinson and Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling.
“I think it’s extremely valuable that we’re all in the same room,” Mason told a media briefing prior to the public meeting.
“To be able to leverage resources will enable us to do a lot more together than we could accomplish separately,” added Delagrave.
Robinson and Schmaling shared and commented on gun crime and arrest statistics in the City of Racine from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30 of this year. During that period, 308 criminal arrests were made, including 241 gun-crime-related arrests. Gun-crime arrests have increased by about 3 percent compared with the same period in 2021.
The most common gun-related arrests – all of which were up from a year ago – were felony bail jumping, first-degree recklessly endangering safety and carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.
Law enforcement agencies reported that 247 shots fired incidents were substantiated (via collection of shell casings) through September. Robinson said the majority of the shots fired incidents have been concentrated in narrow parts of Census Tracts 2, 3 and 5.
The gun violence has taken a toll, with a total of nine homicides, 72 people struck by gunfire and 128 properties damaged, he said.
But the VCRI’s collaboration between the city police and county sheriff’s office has taken more than 300 dangerous criminals off the streets so far this year.
“This was not just clearing (street) corners,” said Robinson. “We were very surgical. We arrested people who needed to be arrested.”
Racine County Sheriff Schmaling weighed in on the gravity of the violence epidemic as well.
“I can assure you that we’re not taking a victory lap, but we’re making progress,” said Schmaling. ”The Racine Police Department and the Racine County Sheriff’s Office are working shoulder-to-shoulder to address the violence.”
Using the numbers
The number of gun-related cases in the City of Racine has increased by 71 percent between 2018 and 2021, she said. Through September, the DA’s office has seen 241 cases and that number is projected to reach 313 by year-end.
Hansen said that an analysis encompassing the last four years of gun crime defendants and victims was used to develop community engagement programs. For example, almost half of those accused in gun crime cases were between the ages of 18 and 29. Roughly three-quarters of the defendants were Black.
Hansen noted that the analysis was not conducted to vilify any group, but to develop effective crime-prevention programming.
“That means our focus needs to be on young African-Americans,” she said.
The programs now in place to help prevent/divert violence are:
- Safe and Sound – trained personnel are on hand to help unite youth and neighborhood residents through community outreach. The program operates through the Community Oriented Policing (COP) Houses (six in Racine, one in Mount Pleasant).
- Credible Messengers – a long-time local program where mentors help young people become positive role models. The mentors, including ex-offenders, work through the city, the county and the George Bray Neighborhood YMCA.
- Community Connectors – a mentorship program through RUSD school buildings. Hansen called the Connectors “a bridge between youth and the services they need.”
- Victim-Witness – a program in the DA’s office now works directly with Voices of Black Mothers United to support victims and families impacted by gun violence.
“We are here to interrupt this cycle of violence,” said Hansen.
RUSD’s Gallien noted separately that the Community Connectors have already done a very good job with interacting with students.
The hosts and speakers urged audience members to get involved in making their communities safe. In short – if you see something, say something: to your neighbors and to law enforcement.
Regarding youth, specifically, Robinson stated: “Just don’t get involved in these kinds of things.”
Peer pressure to look away was addressed by DA Hansen.
“I understand there is a lot of pressure on teens,” said Hansen, “but it’s certainly possible to say something and do it anonymously.”
Schmaling urged the public to make those informative calls to law enforcement.
“Don’t be hesitant to contact law enforcement with tips. You’re not bothering us,” said Schmaling.
County Executive Delagrave spoke to the long-term nature of this collaborative effort.
“The conversation doesn’t end tonight,” said Delagrave. “If we were at a football game, we’d be at the point of where we’re singing the National Anthem.”
Delagrave urged the audience to take home a printed card with gun violence community contact information. Racine Police Cadets handed out the cards at the exits. The audience could also visit information tables of several local resources, including Racine Neighborhood Watch, Community Oriented Policing (COP) Houses and the Safe Haven youth shelter.
More from VCRI
- School metal detectors – In response to a question about the use of metal detectors to help prevent weapons entering RUSD high schools, Gallien said that the detectors are already used to scan those attending sports events. School officials are in the process of setting up random use of the detectors. The issue arose this week after an anonymous tip led to a Case High School student being found to have brought a gun to school.
- Cameras, microphones – The City of Racine has authorized the purchase of acoustic microphones and cameras in high-crime neighborhoods. Robinson said installation is taking longer than expected, partly because of supply chain issues.
- Diversion – A Community Safety Report Card issued by VCRI showed that of 159 youth arrested this year, 74 were diverted from being incarcerated via community programs.
- Sustainability – VCRI was created through a combination of federal grants and local tax dollars. Both Delagrave and Mason said that they’re committed to funding VCRI in the future. Delagrave stated that the next county budget includes $250,000 for VCRI programming. Mason plans to ask for $700,000 in the upcoming city budget.
- Re-entry – Plans are in the works for re-entry help for individuals who have completed sentences in the Racine County Jail, said Hansen. Similar to prison re-entry programming, jail re-entry programming may include education, job training and social development. In addition, mentor groups for both men and women are under development. “Those options will always be explored by my office because we believe that alternatives should be available. We want to give people the opportunity to see that they have options.”
- More updates – Although no timetable has been set, city and county officials expect to hold VCRI public updates in 2023.
As a reminder, use the provided information to share tips and information about crime in Racine:
Any witnesses, or citizens with information, are urged to call the Racine Police Department Investigations Unit at 262-635-7756. Those who wish to remain anonymous may contact Crime Stoppers by phone at 262-636-9330 or through the Crime Stoppers app or website.
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