Officials say tackling crime in the south suburbs will take a concerted, multipronged effort from law enforcement, politicians, students, educators and community members.

Stakeholders from each of those groups met Tuesday at Thornridge High School in Dolton to discuss strategies for combating gun violence and bringing justice to victims of violent crime.

“This is a big undertaking,” said state Rep. Thaddeus Jones, one of the event’s organizers. “This is a big task to do to get everybody on the same page.”

The town hall-style meeting, which followed a closed-door session legislators and police officials held last week, was convened after a recent spate of shootings rocked the area and rattled residents.

“I don’t feel safe now as a resident of Dolton, Calumet City or Harvey,” said Jones, echoing concerns he said he has heard from constituents who want to know what he is going to do about an uptick in violence in their communities.
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Jones, D-Calumet City, said he hoped Tuesday’s crime summit would energize community members and “get them excited about solving the murders and solving the shootings that are taking place right outside the school.”

He and the other officials at the forum talked briefly about the work they were doing to combat gun crime and implored community members to help police investigate shootings in their neighborhoods before opening up the event to public comment.

“We have to get back to a sense of community where the community actually knew the community,” state Sen. Napoleon Harris, D-Harvey, said. “Some people don’t even know who their next-door neighbors are.”

Harris, who lost a brother-in-law to gun violence in 2013, also spoke of the need to work together on comprehensive solutions.

“It is not just an elected officials thing,” he said. “It’s a parenting thing, it’s a teacher thing, it’s a community thing, it’s a clergy thing. There is not one single person up there that has the solution to any and all of these problems, but collectively we can solve them together.”
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Among the legislative efforts Jones said he and other south suburban state legislators are working on to combat violence include bills to fund local police departments, enhance cooperation and data sharing between police agencies and provide schools the ability to function as community centers where students can seek guidance, counseling and a safe space to spend their afternoons and evenings.

The initiatives are still being crafted into legislation, but Jones said he hopes some will be ready for consideration by the time the General Assembly reconvenes for its veto session later this month and into November.

“I don’t think communities can wait, so we will ask leadership in Springfield to look at these in an emergency manner when we go back to veto session,” he said. “If we can get ‘em in veto session and we get it done, it allows us to start in January implementing programs for the schools and allowing them to work through these issues.”

Jones said he also expects implementation of the Tamara Clayton Expressway Camera Act to assist with south suburban crime-fighting efforts.

The new law, which honors a 55-year-old Country Club Hills woman fatally shot in February while driving to work on Interstate 57 near Oak Forest, aims to increase the number and functionality of cameras along expressways in Cook County.
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Jones said he had been in close contact with the Illinois Department of Transportation as it works to enact the program, which is being paid for through the agency’s Road Fund.

“They’re going to make sure all of the cameras are up and operational in January,” Jones said of IDOT, whose new camera network is expected to cover portions of I-57, Interstate 94, Interstate 290 and Interstate 294.

Many community members who participated in Tuesday’s summit approached the subject matter from a personal place, as the close relatives of crime victims.

When Jones asked audience members at one point if they’d known anyone who had been a victim of gun violence, dozens of hands shot up.

Residents who spoke raised a variety of concerns regarding what they felt their communities and schools were lacking and what needed to be done about it.
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A desire for more youth mental health services, trauma-informed practices in schools and education resources in general came up multiple times over the course of the evening.

Another common refrain among participants was the need to restore civic pride and community engagement so residents felt more invested in their neighborhoods and emboldened to speak out when they saw something suspicious or had information that might assist a police investigation.

A large part of reestablishing that trust in the community, Jones said afterward, would be getting elected officials to acknowledge their own failings and put aside their differences to work together for the common good.

“The (place to) start is to say as an elected official that I’m sorry I let you down, or I’m sorry that the community has let you and your family down. Please try to give us another chance to do right,” he said. “We have to give them that assurance that we can do it, we will do it, but everybody needs to be on the same page.”

Jones said he planned to hold additional events like Tuesday’s summit in the future and encouraged residents to attend the upcoming Hands Across Harvey event on Oct. 26, where pastors and community leaders plan to join hands to create a human chain that stretches from Dixie Highway to Halsted Street and pray for an end to community violence.