New state office to help Michigan cities curb gun violence in their own backyards

By Kyle Kaminski

April 8, 2024

A newly formed state office (and millions of dollars in grant funding) from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration is set to help make for safer neighborhoods across Michigan.

MICHIGAN—Statistics show that at least nine people are injured and at least another four people are killed by guns every day in Michigan. And with nearly 1,500 gun deaths reported in Michigan in 2022, they’re now the leading cause of death among children and teens statewide.

State gun death statistics for 2023 haven’t yet been released, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration isn’t waiting around to see if Michigan has made it out of the woods.

Last year, Whitmer announced the creation of the new Office of Community Violence Intervention Services within the state Department of Health and Human Services. With more than $10 million in funding in this year’s budget, the new office is designed to partner with (and provide funding to) community-based organizations working to reduce violent crime statewide.

And last month, a new director was hired to head up the operation: Jennifer DeLaCruz.

In an interview with The ‘Gander, DeLaCruz labeled gun violence as a “public health crisis,” but said the newly dedicated office and resources at the state level will help offer tangible solutions.

“We know that community violence is an increasingly urgent public health problem and even though we’re seeing disproportionate burdens of community violence in some areas, we’re seeing community violence in every single community,” DeLaCruz told The ‘Gander. “Everyone deserves to feel safe in their own communities. So, in that vein, elevating these state efforts into this new state office was extremely important. We all have a role to play in community safety.”

What’s the issue?

DeLaCruz defines community violence—which includes homicides and non-fatal shootings—as a “significant and growing” public health problem, namely because of the “substantial harm and trauma” it creates for entire communities, particularly for racially segregated neighborhoods.

Studies also show that people who live in communities experiencing violence are at a much higher risk for developing chronic diseases and may have limited opportunities to engage in healthy behaviors—such as using recreational spaces and accessing healthy food outlets.

“This is completely preventable, so this is quite an urgent issue,” DeLaCruz said. “We’ve also seen an increase in suicides. And so, we know that we really do need to take more action by working hand-in-hand with local communities to prevent these types of deaths from happening.”

What’s the plan?

DeLaCruz said the new office is designed primarily to coordinate state and federal funds directly to local communities, so that they can deploy their own strategies for reducing violent crime—including by working with nonprofit organizations that are already doing the work locally.

A big part of what we’re doing is providing support,” DeLaCruz said. “We’re going out to meet them. We’re learning about their communities, their specific needs, talking about work plans and budgets, and meeting community partners to help them deploy violence intervention strategies.”

In a statement, Whitmer said state officials tapped DeLaCruz to lead the new office because of her “proactive approach to building partnerships” at the state Department of Health and Human Services, where DeLaCruz has worked as an administrative manager since 2015.

“Another big centerpiece of our work is literally just hearing from communities about their needs and connecting them with resources and ways they can work together,” DeLaCruz added.

‘Collective Responsibility’

In addition to creating the new violence intervention office and signing a series of gun safety reforms into law last year, Whitmer also signed a budget bill last year that funded millions of dollars in state grants to help local communities address gun violence in their own backyards.

“Keeping our communities safe is a challenge. It is a collective responsibility though,” Whitmer said. “We ask far too much of our law enforcement. We ask them to keep our streets safe as we face deep, complex social challenges with very few tools historically. We know that law enforcement alone is not enough to make the change necessary to curb violence.”

That legislation launched the new office and translated to more than $7 million in grants awarded to eight community-based groups, allowing them to expand their existing operations.

Dozens of groups applied to receive funding; Eight groups got up to $1 million each—mostly to support street outreach programs to help deter crime and provide support in Allegan, Kent, Oakland, Oceana, Ingham, Kalamazoo, Newaygo, Ottawa, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties.

“We know local communities know what’s best for keeping their own communities safe,” DeLaCruz said. “We want to work with people who are already serving as trusted and credible messengers, who are capable of working directly with those at the highest risk of violence.”

DeLaCruz said the recent grant funding exemplifies the overall mission of her office, which aims to tailor resources to community-level needs rather than dictate blanket solutions for the state.

“We can’t do that unless it’s through a community driven approach,” she said. “That can’t be done at the state level. It’s really something that must be done locally with local strategies.”

All told, Whitmer’s administration has invested more than $1.5 billion into public safety programs since the governor took office in 2019—including by dedicating more state-level resources to hiring, training, and retaining local police officers, firefighters, and EMTs in local communities.

Her budget recommendation for the next fiscal year also includes $5.5 million in proposed funding for the community violence intervention office, as well as tens of millions of dollars to hire and train more first responders.

WATCH: State funds help local program curb gun violence in Lansing

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Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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