The top prosecutor in Central Illinois is looking to implement more proactive strategies to reduce violent crime.
John Milhiser became the U.S. attorney for the Central District of Illinois last fall. One of his top priorities is to implement Project Safe Neighborhoods, a U.S. Department of Justice initiative that aims to engage police and prosecutors to work with community leaders to curb gun and gang-related crime.
“We want the community to understand and to work with law enforcement, and I think that will go a long way toward making it a success,” Milhiser said.
Milhiser said the program hinges on building relationships, in particular, helping to build bonds between police and the public at a time when mistrust is real.
“A community is more comfortable if they know that the police are there to help them, which they are,” he said. “That message needs to get out there. Unfortunately, on social media and you watch certain things on TV, they don’t think that’s the case.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Ghrist, a former McLean County assistant state’s attorney, is looking to help the county implement proactive strategies to address violent crime.
He said the county's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council has already become a model for how communities can tackle complex problems. It would likely play a lead role.
Ghrist said the program will have to look to community partners to see if their efforts are making a difference.
“They’ll tell us if it’s working, and we need to – through John (Milhiser)’s leadership as prosecutors, getting into and looking at their individual needs, the communities will tell us,” Ghrist said.
A U.S. House budget committee threatened to cut funding for the Safe Neighborhoods program earlier this year. Milhiser said the program is laying the groundwork through partnerships that it could continue without federal funding.
“If there is grant money available, that is a benefit, but I think it can also be successful and can work to help a community even without that funding,” Milhiser said.
The Justice Department issues grants to police departments and other agencies that come up with creative ways to curb violent crime. Milhiser said that could include money for after-school, housing and employment programs.
You can also listen to the full interview with Milhiser and Ghrist:
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