The Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor will share in more than $340,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice in a bid to reduce violence in this and half a dozen other communities throughout West Michigan. The effort is being called Project Safe Neighborhoods.
United States Attorney Andrew Birge announced this morning that the Department of Justice has awarded a total of more than $340,000 to seven local communities, including Benton Harbor, through the Western District of Michigan’s Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) grant.
The goal of the PSN program is to reduce violent crime rates. With that goal in mind, a committee of local law enforcement leaders determines how to allocate the federal funds. In Western Michigan, a committee of local prosecutors and law enforcement departments from Benton Harbor, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Kalamazoo, Muskegon and Battle Creek collectively decided to focus on funding violence prevention, building strong community-law enforcement relationships, and providing alternative opportunities for those who might engage in violent crime.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor will receive $37,000 for Project Learn. Project Learn will provide youth development programming, including tutoring, computer technology programs, mentoring, and club activities to children ages six to fourteen living in one of Benton Harbor area’s most violent neighborhoods. Project Learn will be provided in the children’s neighborhood 5 days a week, 36 weeks a year and includes transportation for members. Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic says, “My hope is that with this PSN sub-grant funding our Boys and Girls Clubs involvement with the youth in the neighborhood, residents will achieve a greater sense of community.” He adds, “It is that sense of community that, over time, will reduce the significant gun violence that plagues this neighborhood.”
In Battle Creek, a $37,000 grant will partially fund the salary of a victim advocate as part of Battle Creek Police Department’s Violence Interruption Initiative. That initiative takes a holistic approach to tackling violence as a public health problem. The victim advocate will work with law enforcement to identify and intervene with those who may be looking to leave a violent lifestyle and will assist victims of violence and their families as they navigate the legal process while coordinating services from governmental and non-governmental providers.
Kalamazoo’s Group Violence Intervention (GVI) strategy is a collaboration between community and law enforcement partners who come together to address offenders about the choices they face, the support the community has to offer them, and the opportunities and resources available to law-abiding citizens.
Jeff Getting is Kalamazoo County Prosecutor. He says, “The Project Safe Neighborhood grant is vital to Kalamazoo being able to continue the Group Violence Initiative. This ongoing strategy is making Kalamazoo neighborhoods safer by significantly reducing the number of fatal and non-fatal shootings. I want to personally thank the Department of Justice and the United States Attorney’s Office for their role in helping my community.” GVI’s award of $37,000 will partially fund the salary of a program coordinator who oversee activities, partnerships, and services associated with the program, working with street outreach and social services and acting as a liaison with law enforcement.
West Michigan Silent Observer obtained $18,500 for messaging about violence prevention and unsolved crime. In the Grand Rapids area, Silent Observer plans to offer rewards for tips on violent crime, to solicit information about unsolved homicide, to provide violence prevention materials to schools, and to print informational brochures in English and Spanish to spread the word about Silent Observer, crime prevention, and providing information to law enforcement that will help solve and prevent crimes.
Midnight Basketball will be a basketball league in Lansing for players ages sixteen to twenty-four and games will be Fridays and Saturdays from 8:00 pm to 1:00 am. Lansing Police Department members will join community players for the games with dual goals of providing a positive alternative activity at times prone to high instances of gun violence and building positive relationships between youth, police, community outreach groups, and faith-based organizations.
There will also be a Basketball Leadership Academy offered once a week at community centers using basketball to teach leadership skills. Those projects received approximately $37,000 in funding.
Lansing Police Department is also funding various community outreach programs, including Hoop It Up—providing officers with portable adjustable hoops and balls for pop-up basketball with the community; a Health and Fitness Club pairing youth ages 8 to 16 with officers, nutritionists, and personal trainers; welcome packages for new residents with crime prevention tips; and Light Up Lansing, providing porch light bulbs to keep violence-prone areas illuminated to prevent crime, while also giving officers a chance to build bonds with residents through positive interactions.
In Muskegon, a $17,000 grant will support three projects that share the goal of reducing youth violence in Muskegon County. Working with Silent Observer, the Muskegon Police Department will offer rewards for tips on violent crime. The Muskegon Police will also fund the Boys and Girls Club of the Muskegon Lakeshore to help train young adults who do not have a license because of the prohibitive cost of driver’s training classes. Transportation is an obstacle to youth not being able to obtain employment. Finally, the Muskegon Police will support the Social Justice Commission to host events on the last day of school before summer break. The goal of this program is to prevent the outbreak of violence, which has plagued the last day of school in the city.
Muskegon Heights Police Department is funding multiple community projects throughout their city. Implementing an integrated and holistic approach to reducing gun violence in their community, Muskegon Heights Police is collaborating with local organizations to support community basketball, baseball, and football programs for at-risk youth; host the Walk for UNITY community march; fund We Care mentors to interrupt and deter future violence in local neighborhoods; and support a variety of community events that will promote violence prevention. Those projects received approximately $17,000 in funding.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan remains committed to supporting local law enforcement, community organizations, and residents to reduce violent crime in the district. The funds through the Project Safe Neighborhoods grant give communities the resources they need to implement local, comprehensive, and collaborative responses to violence.
Senior Vice President Annette Chapman, of the Battle Creek Community Foundation, is the fiscal agent for the Western District of Michigan’s Project Safe Neighborhoods grant. Her dedication to the grant’s strategy, management, and community stakeholders has been a key component to the success of the program.