My work at Targeted Violence Prevention Program

I created the Targeted Violence Prevention Program because I knew that using sting operations against individuals often leads to individuals with a variety of cognitive or behavioral problems being lured into criminal conduct. The luring is done by unscrupulous predators looking for others to carry out violence for them, but sometimes also by law enforcement agents posing as such. There has to be a better way.

And there is. Using a public health approach to violence prevention is that better way. It is how we need to address all forms of criminal justice issues. We cannot arrest and imprison our way to safety.

The state agency I worked at from 2009 to 2019 – Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority – was the base from which we launched the Targeted Violence Prevention Program. We received the program’s funding from a block grant from Homeland Security to the State of Illinois. This block grant paid for emergency management projects, law enforcement support, and so on.

Under the Obama administration we were able to use a small portion of those dollars to create a program that would try to reframe the “countering violent extremism” program. At that time the federal government was only focused on Muslims and Arabs and on Al Qaeda (and later ISIS) related terrorism. We wanted to address all forms of predatory violence.

Our mission was to reframe the focus on all forms of “targeted violence” (a term coined by the U.S. Secret Service in the 1990s ) which includes school shootings, stalking violence, and more recently domestic and international acts of terror. We knew from the data that white supremacist violence (domestic terrorism) was as great or greater risk that internationally inspired terrorism and we made addressing it a central component of our focus.

In 2016 we applied for a competitive grant from Homeland Security under the title “Countering Violent Extremism.” We wanted to build a training program for community members on how to better identify someone who needs help and then teach them how to get that help. Hundreds of organizations all across the U.S. applied. The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago applied. The Council on American Islamic Relations – Florida also applied.

This document – a training curriculum – is the work product of a Homeland Security “Countering Violent Extremism” grant that received.

This is the work product of the grant project. A review of the work product will quickly correct the many incorrect and misleading claims leveled against my work.

Our program was modeled after other targeted violence prevention efforts such as Sandy Hook Promise. The training that our project team developed was inspired by both bystander training programs and mental health first aid training. Both are evidence-based training programs, and we sought to use the same principles.

During the course of my work on this program I worked with civil liberties organizations because I understood the fears and concerns around “CVE” and this became more pronounced after Donald Trump became president and spoke openly of discriminating against Muslims. I talked to individuals like Edwin Yohnka at the American Civil Liberties Union Illinois and Ahmed Rehab and Sufyan Sohel at the Council of American Islamic Relations in Chicago from time to time (and with the CAIR-Chicago staff on numerous additional occasions).

In this essay I noted that our program offered local and national civil rights organizations access to the work product that would become the CARE Training Curriculum (the work product of the “Countering Violent Extremism” grant). Transparency was important. We felt confident that our framing would not create stigma, but we also wanted to remain open to feedback from perspectives outside of our own.

By late-2017 the impact of the Trump administration reached our program. The State of Illinois was required to reprioritize how it used the Homeland Security block grant. Funds to Illinois were cut which meant there were fewer dollars across the board. The allowance for violence prevention programs was changed as well. Because the funding was severely curtailed (we couldn’t sustain even one full time person), I decided to leave and pursue my passion for public health work elsewhere.

I went to the Illinois Department of Public Health where I could continue working on public health issues in May 2019 (albeit not in violence prevention). In July 2019 I also decided to run for State’s Attorney in Kane County using my 25+ years of experience to bring the kind of change I felt was long overdue.

I have always been a strong voice AGAINST racial and religious profiling. I have always been a strong voice for violence prevention and public safety as well. I believe we can build safe and healthy communities without resorting to mass incarceration and stereotyping. That has always been my goal.

Here are examples of the messaging we promoted through our outreach and education efforts at TVPP:

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