Center for Homeland Defense and Security Executive Leaders Program alum Jason Sanford is at the forefront of a nationally recognized effort to address targeted violence and domestic violence extremism prevention.
As the senior policy advisor to Illinois Governor JB Pritzker’s Homeland Security Advisor and Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) Director Alicia Tate-Nadeau, another CHDS ELP alum, Sanford (ELP cohort 2102) is taking the lead on the IEMA’s efforts to address targeted and domestic violence extremism prevention in a two-part strategy that has, in turn, drawn attention nationally.
“It’s a hot item in [the Department of Homeland Security] world these days and we think the work in Illinois is one of the examples to be used,” he said.
According to Sanford, the state’s EMA applied through the National Governor’s Association (NGA) a year ago for technical assistance aimed at devising a strategy for addressing targeted violence and participated in the NGA Policy Academy on Preventing Targeted Violence to develop a statewide prevention strategy.
Sanford said the proposal was given the go-ahead to build a Targeted Violence Prevention Coalition as part of that effort, and the agency started with the existing K-12 and higher education violence prevention program because it was already well-developed with existing partners, with plans to build it out from there and expand to other areas of targeted violence.
“It was more a matter of connecting the dots rather than creating new dots,” Sanford said.
Coalition experts including the University of Illinois Chicago and Western Illinois University devised and built out the strategy, according to Sanford, and the resulting Targeted Violence Prevention Strategy coordinates information and resources, builds partnerships, and empowers local communities to prevent targeted violence, which is generally defined as “any intentional act against a pre-identified target based on that target’s perceived identity or affiliation that is intended to intimidate or coerce or generate publicity about the perpetrator’s grievance.”
Sanford said the initial efforts will “focus on grassroots and community programs that will be at the frontline of efforts to prevent targeted violence,” and the coalition determined that K-12 and higher education would benefit from “strengthening community-based targeted violence prevention resources for primary, secondary and tertiary prevention.”
Sanford said these concepts are familiar to the public health world, and years of experience and background in public health helps in understanding how the disciplines of public health and homeland security can continue coordinating.
According to Sanford, primary prevention involves reducing population-level risk factors such as bullying, domestic violence, gang membership, drug and alcohol abuse, and strengthening population-level protective factors such as linkage to mental health services.
Secondary prevention, he said, involves helping people at risk for targeted violence with wrap-around services aimed at enabling them to diminish or cease their risk for potential violence, while tertiary prevention involves helping people who have been convicted of a crime related to targeted violence with wrap-around services that enable them to diminish their risk of further similar crimes.
In addition, Sanford said the strategy calls for strengthening higher education and K-12 based Behavioral Threat Assessment Management (BTAM) teams aimed at establishing and maintaining the capabilities of regional community-based BTAM teams.
Sanford said the strategy will remain flexible to respond to changing conditions. “Like any document, it’s a living document; it has to change,” he said, but the “Illinois model” of focusing on building coalitions and community partnerships is seen as the predominant future trend.
Meanwhile, the Illinois strategy is getting plenty of attention, including from states across the nation who have also worked with the NGA on the issue, and Sanford said the plan went all the way up the DHS chain to top leadership.
In a separate phase, Sanford said, the state’s domestic violence extremism strategy will focus on behaviors outside the education system that might require law enforcement intervention.
Led by Illinois State Police, a Domestic Violence Extremism working group including law enforcement, emergency management and community organizations was formed and started meeting in September, and assessment and development of law enforcement-specific strategies has begun.
The working group will consider the following issues: Domestic Violent Extremism national implications; Domestic Violent Extremism in Illinois with historical and current intelligence; applicable laws; current state of affairs/government roles and responsibilities; resources dedicated to Domestic Violent Extremism; current state of coordination; strategic planning with timelines and metrics.
Sanford said his experience at CHDS in the Executive Leaders Program helped prepare him for working with diverse coalitions and partnerships, noting that the program examined complexity in executive decision-making and complicated national issues like prevention. Being able to share experiences and learn from each other helped to form courses of action in developing coalitions and strategies, including respect for diversity of thought, he said.
Sanford has worked for the IEMA since 2019, and among his missions are state homeland security policy, and prevention programs and partnerships.
Before working for the Illinois EMA, Sanford served as senior emergency management coordinator for the City of Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications, where he developed the city’s first supply chain resilience program, and served as preparedness and vulnerable populations coordinator for the State of Georgia Department of Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response.