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Gun Violence Working Group Still Developing Ideas For Juvenile Justice Council

T-shirts hang up at gun event
Jeff Smudde
T-shirts hang up at a recent #WearOrange event hosted by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America's local chapter in Normal.

It will be another few months before McLean County’s Juvenile Justice Council hears formal recommendations from its gun violence working group.

The working group was formed after 2018’s spike in gun violence, including nine homicides and seven nonfatal shootings in Bloomington-Normal. It was one of few new public responses to that gun violence.

The gun violence working group includes Juvenile Justice Council (JJC) chair Cassy Taylor, court services director for McLean County; former JJC chair and current Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner; State’s Attorney Don Knapp; and Public Defender Carla Barnes. Their proposal will go in front of the JJC at its next meeting in September.

Taylor said their proposal, while still being shaped, may go beyond gun violence to address other types of youth-involved violence, including domestic violence.

“That might be the direction (we go), when we look at those issues of prevention and intervention, that we don’t limit ourselves to one type of violence for youth, but also directed in several areas that need improvement,” Taylor said on WGLT’s Sound Ideas.

Bleichner said the group may also seek marketing help from students and faculty at local universities.

“There might be an opportunity there to share a message, whether it’s prevention of violence, or gun violence itself. There may be a way to do that,” Bleichner said.

Other downstate communities have responded to gun violence with formalized focused deterrence programs, like Don’t Shoot in Peoria and Fresh Start in Champaign-Urbana. The focused deterrence model brings community stakeholders together and reaches out directly to at-risk youth.

“I can tell you that both of those communities have reached out to myself, to Bloomington, because … other communities were looking at it because they had far more serious problems. And so those programs were great for those communities. We have to look at what fits best for Bloomington-Normal.”

There is a lot of interagency cooperation happening behind the scenes, he said.

“Just because we don’t have a tagline or a name for it, certainly doesn’t mean we’re not focusing on these areas and making them a priority for our agencies and collectively," Bleichner said.

The Juvenile Justice Council, focused on interagency cooperation, is comprised of local law enforcement, court officials and judges, prosecutors and public defenders, plus representatives from community organizations. For the past several years, its top priorities have been truancy and education, trauma, and job skills.

You can also listen to the full interview with Bleichner and Taylor:  

Juvenile Justice Council Full Segment

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.