Grant aims to reduce violence in community

Delvin Ergott, Staff writer

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, has announced that the Mercyhurst University Civic Institute, in conjunction with Unified Erie and the Erie School District, will receive a $148,141 state research grant for the purpose of reducing gun violence in the area.

The grant is part of the $1.5 million statewide Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency program, which works to increase safety of communities assist crime victims and improve the criminal justice system.

“This funding to help municipalities address their specific needs to reduce gun violence is an important step to protect Pennsylvanians and make our communities the safest they can be,” Wolf said in a statement released by Mercyhurst on Sept. 10.

Unified Erie and the City of Erie School District will use the funds to put programs like Operation Ceasefire, an evidence-based program focusing on youth gun violence started in 1996, in place. These programs are meant to help fulfill the Group Violence Reduction Strategy and the Chronic Violent Offender Strategy. The Mercyhurst Civic Institute will conduct research supporting initiatives that aim to identify indicators of at-risk youth and gun violence.

As of July 6, Erie has seen almost 40 percent fewer reports of gunshots than it had in 2017. The 2017 totals were even a decrease from 2016.

The Erie Police Department has attributed this continuing decline in gun violence to Unified Erie’s first two “call-ins,” which offer at-risk youth help from law enforcement officials and social service workers.

Michael Outlaw, a leader of the organization and community liaison for Erie Mayor Joe Schember, said, “We call in individuals that we believe can turn their lives around. They go back to their respective circles and they say, ‘Listen, we’ve been put on notice.’ Some of them even go so far as to get on Facebook and talk about it.”

The new grant could help this trend continue.

“It is going to enhance the efforts that are already underway,” said Amy Eisert, director of the Mercyhurst Civic Institute.

The Mercyhurst Civic Institute, which will handle the university’s participation in the program, is a partnership between Mercyhurst and the Erie community designed to “evaluate, understand, and improve public policies and processes, which affect the region’s citizens,” according to the institute’s website.

With the new grant, the institute should be able to continue that mission and pave a brighter future for Erie’s at-risk youth.