The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

JoCo makes progress on community violence intervention program

The county-wide program aims to build relationships among law enforcement, community leaders, and citizens to help prevent gun violence before it escalates.
Isabella Tisdale
The Iowa City City Council listens to public comment during a City Council meeting in Iowa City on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023.

Johnson County has made progress in the development of a county-wide community violence intervention program, which aims to prevent violent crimes by providing support and assistance to vulnerable community members.

The program consists of building trust and relationships among law enforcement, community leaders, and community members to help citizens vulnerable to perpetuating or falling victim to gun violence avoid bad outcomes.

According to a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. averaged 54 deaths per day by firearm in 2022.

The CDC also reported that in Iowa, there were 364 deaths related to firearms in 2021, making the death rate for firearm-related injuries a little over 11 people per every 100,000.

In March, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors approved $36,000 of COVID-19 American Rescue Plan Act relief funds to go towards funding the program. Currently, the program is overseen by the Johnson County Attorney’s Office.

This program is similar to one that is based in Cedar Rapids which has been ongoing for the past few years.

In June, Jessica Lang was hired to be the county’s community violence prevention coordinator to help oversee the program and get it started. Since then, Lang and Johnson County Attorney Rachel Zimmermann Smith said there has been significant progress made in getting the program on its feet.

Since being hired, Lang said she has spent a lot of time gathering input from local law enforcement and community leaders, such as nonprofit organizations and city councils, about what issues each community is facing.

There has also been lots of relationship building between those two groups and community members to help get the program’s message across to the wider public, Lang said.

This has helped build trust among those groups so that law enforcement, community leaders, or even other citizens can help intervene in a person’s life if they are going down a path of community violence, Zimmermann Smith said.

Eventually, the county would like to get to a point where it can consistently employ three different methods of interventions for at-risk community members, those being custom notification, call-ins, and community education, Zimmermann Smith said.

Custom notification would involve group visits among an at-risk individual, law enforcement, and community leaders to help them get on the right path and later follow up with them to ensure they are doing better.

A call-in would act as an intervention between different community groups to mediate conflicts and restore broken or strained relationships.

Community education would consist of informing the public of the community violence intervention program so they can understand how to utilize its services.

The process of developing this program has been and always will be an ongoing one because of the collaborative nature of a program like this, Zimmermann Smith said. At its upcoming work session on Oct. 17, the Iowa City City Council will receive a presentation about the program’s progress so far.

Iowa City City Manager Geoff Fruin wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that the City of Iowa City is glad to be a participant in this program.

Iowa City is committed to working collaboratively with Johnson County and other community leaders on the violence intervention program,” Fruin wrote. “Preventing violence through positive intervention from trusted community leaders should always be a shared primary objective.”

Eventually, the goal for this program is to make it its own standalone program instead of being led by the county attorney’s office, Zimmermann Smith said.

This kind of community collaboration is an important one that can make a real impact on people’s lives, Lang said.

“One life lost is too many,” Lang said. “It’s one of those things where we have to work together, and I feel like Johnson County is really proactive, rather than reactive, in this community violence intervention.”

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About the Contributors
Isabelle Foland, News Reporter
Isabelle Foland is a second-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication and minoring in Spanish. She is a second-year news reporter at The Daily Iowan, reporting mainly on Iowa City City Council. She is from Missouri Valley, Iowa and has reported for her hometown paper prior to her time at The DI.
Isabella Tisdale, Photojournalist
Isabella Tisdale is a photojournalist for The Daily Iowan and is a senior at West High school. In her free time, she stage manages for the theater program at West High. She plans to double major in political science and journalism.