CHICAGO (CBS) – The Governor's Office is deploying anti-violence workers across Chicago ahead of the holiday weekend, calling them "peacekeepers."
Gov. JB Pritzker's program is modeled after two existing groups in the city. CBS 2's Tara Molina spoke to a peacekeeper with one of those groups who's been doing this kind of work for years.
While other types of operations in the city are based in neighborhoods, this new unit is going to be mobile and can respond to or work in other areas.
They're trained to handle what police call "large group incidents," which the city has already seen ahead of Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial kickoff to summer.
Behind the fencing and security checkpoints surrounding Millennium Park, anyone under age 18 is required to have adult supervision after 6 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. If there are gatherings of unsupervised minors, that's an example of one situation the governor's new unit of about 30 peacekeepers is fully trained to handle and de-escalate.
"They can help stop some of the violence before it even starts," said Marcus Mitchell, a peacekeeper with the Institute for Non-Violence in Chicago.
Mitchell is the outreach supervisor in West Garfield for the institute. He's worked as a peacekeeper for years in partnership with FLIP, Flat Lining Violence Inspires Peace.
"We want to get in front of things so things don't escalate," Mitchell said. "We want to stop the shooting before the shooting occurs."
The governor's unit is built off the work Mitchell and others are doing every day. They're entrenched in the communities, mediating street conflict in neighborhoods mostly on the South and West Sides. Mitchell said the governor's group will be doing similar work.
The difference is they'll be mobile.
"When something big happens downtown or something like that, the group moves downtown and to different areas," Mitchell said. "When as far as our group? We're from these trenches. We are from the neighborhood and we are more familiar with the neighborhood. So that's the difference."
A spokesperson from the state confirmed more than 30 peacekeepers are already trained and will be working through the holiday weekend. They'll move throughout the city, with some working in the downtown area, ready to move.
Molina: "Is this something that's needed? A group like this?"
Mitchell: "Yes, very much so. In the last couple of years, you've seen the groups of kids causing vandalism and stuff like that downtown. So it's very much needed."
The state is funding this unit with pandemic funding. CBS 2 was told $750,000 is dedicated to the unit so far and that it will continue throughout the summer.
In a statement, the Illinois Department of Human Services said of the peacekeepers program:
"The Office of Firearm Violence Prevention is working to aggressively implement strategies that advance public safety. The peacekeepers serve as first responders in their communities. FLIP has a track record of success and the State is doing its part to ensure these individuals are properly resourced."
For more information on the program, click here.
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