Chicago has been experiencing elevated levels of gun violence since late May 2020, when massive protests against police violence gave way to rioting and unrest. There is an understandable clamor for solutions.
The governments of Chicago, Cook County and Illinois spend about $4.5 billion per year on law enforcement and incarceration, including the Chicago Police Department, the Illinois State Police, the Cook County Sheriff, the Cook County Jail and the Illinois Department of Corrections. Some of the spending targets violent crime, but it also includes policing and punishing nonviolent crimes and offenses not related to shootings or homicides.
That multibillion-dollar total does not include the costs of running the county’s massive court system, or other court systems throughout the state.
Meanwhile, a review of those agencies’ budgets show about $127 million in funding earmarked specifically for violence prevention efforts that don’t involve policing or punishment. (That number does not include domestic violence prevention spending, nor does it include services like youth employment, mentoring, mental health supports or prisoner re-entry — which might help reduce violence but do not have violence prevention as their primary goals.)
Spending on violence reduction has been on the rise in recent years, thanks to a big influx of federal money from COVID-19 relief funds. Here’s how state and local governments are actually spending their violence prevention dollars.
The city of Chicago
Chicago’s most recent spending plan budgets $16.5 million for “violence prevention and reduction.” By contrast the city budgeted $1.7 billion for the Police Department. The violence prevention funding is centered in the city’s Department of Health, specifically in the Office of Violence Prevention.
The funding is an increase of about $5 million compared to the spending in the previous budget. The majority of the money is dedicated to funding community-based street outreach programs, with the nonprofit Metropolitan Family Services getting the largest grant last year, $6 million to coordinate outreach on the city’s South and West sides.
Street outreach also gets the bulk of anti-violence funding from the state and county. It’s a tactic in which workers with close ties to specific communities try to connect with the people doing the shooting. They then work to mediate disputes, negotiate ceasefires, provide comfort to victims and ultimately offer services that might pull people away from street violence for good.
In 2020, Cook County doled out $16.5 million in “violence prevention grants” according to county budget documents, an increase from the previous year.
The extra funding included a $5 million grant to Metropolitan Family Services, the same organization that got $6 million from the city. It also included an additional $1.75 million for anti-violence efforts in the south suburbs.
To put those numbers in some context the sheriff, who runs the jail, has a budget of $594 million.
The state of Illinois
The state’s $42 billion budget, passed by lawmakers on May 31, includes about $94 million in grants specifically earmarked for violence prevention. The majority of that money is reallocated federal funds sent to Illinois through the COVID-19 relief package, the American Rescue Plan Act.
The grants are administered by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority and much of the funding once again focuses on street outreach.
The state also spends hundreds of millions of dollars per year on related human services like after school programs, prisoner re-entry and youth jobs programs. And it has the relatively new $75 million Restore, Reinvest and Renew program, which sends 25% of the state’s cannabis tax revenue to programs meant to revitalize areas of the state hit hard by disinvestment and over-incarceration. That program has violence prevention as one of its main objectives.
Big money ahead?
The increase in gun violence and homicides — combined with the renewed focus on the claimed failures and limitations of policing — have many people asking for more resources for anti-violence efforts that don’t rely on punishment.
Federally, President Joe Biden has included $5 billion for community-based violence prevention programs in his proposed jobs and infrastructure package. Some Chicago-based groups have been part of the push for violence prevention funding that doesn’t involve policing.
Legislators have been haggling over the infrastructure bill since it was introduced earlier this year, and it’s not clear what the final version will look like. On Wednesday, a group of senators said they’d reached a bipartisan agreement that is only about half as large as Biden’s original proposal.