TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Intervention programs and criminal justice reform served as the focus of another briefing held Tuesday afternoon by Travis County leaders, as they keep discussing ways to prevent gun violence in the area.
The county announced commissioners heard from these two organizations: the National Institute of Criminal Justice Reform (NICJR) and the Health Alliance for Violence Prevention (HAVI).
According to the county’s news release, NICJR “will outline how a gun violence prevention ecosystem rooted in community and public health can reduce gun violence in our community.” Meanwhile, representatives from HAVI explained why “having professionals engage with gun violence victims in the hospital is key to interrupting cycles of violence.”
We spoke with representatives from HAVI about the group’s similar work underway in Chicago. There, the organization partners with police to connect advocates with victims as early as possible.
Les Jenkins, who lost his own child to gun violence, works on the front lines of that initiative in Chicago, meeting with victims and their families.
“When we show up at the hospital, we don’t just show up and check in. Sometimes we spend hours there offering emotional support,” he said, adding advocates continue to work with victims to help with resources like housing, counseling or legal help – in the following weeks, months and even years. “We want to stay in their lives as long as they allow us to.”
The advocates are members of the community.
“If you have teams of people from the community who know people – but more so the community knows and trusts them… and they’re the ones carrying a lot of the messages that are normally carried from government or law enforcement, that helps with the effectiveness,” said Norman Kerr, one of the directors with HAVI.
Texas Gun Sense also discussed policy suggestions for the Travis County leaders.
The briefing Tuesday was the second of three briefing plans, focusing on different aspects of violence prevention.
In the City of Austin, the Office of Violence Prevention is currently working on contracting with Jails to Jobs as a way to integrate the HAVI model here at home. The program provides employment-based and character-development training to offenders.
“When we look at violence prevention, there’s a spectrum of interventions all the way from community-based to police response,” said Michelle Myles, the manager of the Office of Violence Prevention. “And we want to provide the appropriate intervention at the right time.”
Travis County Judge Andy Brown released the following statement about the need to discuss forms of violence prevention.
“Gun violence is the number one cause of homicides and suicides in Travis County. As of 2021, a new Texas law allows people to carry guns without permits. Gun deaths in Texas have increased since that law was passed. Assault rifles can be sold to 18 year olds. Mental health funding from the State of Texas is woefully insufficient. Red flag laws don’t exist in Texas. Because of these facts, we are forced to spend very limited local dollars to make up for failures at the state level. We are grateful for the presentations from HAVI, from the United States ATF, Texas Gun Sense, and others as we evaluate the best policy path forward for the safety of Travis County residents.”Travis County Judge Andy Brown
Last week county leaders discussed the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN). The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) runs the program, which utilizes a pooled database to help law enforcement more efficiently analyze ballistic evidence, which can streamline investigations.
Currently, the Austin Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety have the machine that allows investigators to enter local ballistic evidence into the database. Travis County can use the machines, according to District Attorney José Garza, but because of limited resources, access can be difficult.