Four rehearsals have been held.
A menu has been chosen.
Invitations are being designed.
After months of planning, an anticipated anti-violence initiative - Erie's first call-in - is drawing near.
Jacquie Barney-Collins, who was hired in October to organize the program's logistics as call-in coordinator, said her goal is to be ready for the first call-in "whenever it happens."
The call-in session will focus on those who have been identified, using data based on information provided by law enforcement, as likely to become involved in gun violence or other criminal activity.
Those who are identified will receive a personal invitation to attend the call-in, where they will hear messages from law enforcement, local clergy, ex-offenders and family members of the victims of violence, among others, and receive a meal. The focus of the call-in is twofold - participants will be given an offer of help to change their lifestyle, but they will also be warned that law enforcement will respond swiftly if they decline help and commit crimes.
Call-ins are an initiative of Unified Erie, an anti-violence campaign made up of a coalition of law enforcement, social services agencies, faith-based organizations and government. They are being organized through the Erie County Re-Entry Services and Support Alliance, or ECRSSA, of which Barney-Collins is an employee.
Barney-Collins was one of several people hired through a $1.2 million grant awarded in July to the Greater Erie Community Action Committee, which oversees the call-in program and ECRSSA's other major initiative of providing services to ex-offenders re-entering the community from prison.
The funding was provided by the Erie Community Foundation and the United Way of Erie County, and represented the largest influx of funding yet for Unified Erie.
Three case managers who work in the re-entry portion of the alliance - Michael Outlaw, Kaitlin Dolak and Jessie Tate - have also been hired with the funding, said Sheila Silman, ECRSSA's director. Client advocate Tyshun Taylor, who is employed through the Downtown YMCA, was also hired with the funding to provide mentorship through the re-entry program, Silman said.
As call-in coordinator, Barney-Collins is responsible for planning the logistics of the call-in, from its location to the security that will be present to keep participants safe, all the way down to what food will be served.
Silman said four call-in rehearsals have already been held.
"It has to be stellar," Silman said. "There's too much at stake, not only the funding, but people's lives."
The date of the first call-in has not yet been chosen, Silman said, and the process of vetting candidates is ongoing. But when the date is chosen, the exact timing and location of the first call-in will not be widely announced for security reasons, she said.
Silman said the first call-in could include as few as 15 participants chosen from a large pool of candidates who seem to be "on the fringes" of more serious criminal activity.
Barney-Collins will serve as case manager to any call-in participant who accepts help after the call-in. She is working to ensure social services are in place so there is no delay if call-in participants wish to accept services.
"A lot of times we're caught up in these things because ... we don't see a way out," she said. Offenders trying to leave a criminal lifestyle might feel overwhelmed by necessary tasks like getting a Social Security card or finding transportation to a job.
"Any obstacles or barriers that they identify, I'm going to work with them to help them overcome them," she said.
Barney-Collins was perhaps an unlikely candidate for the call-in coordinator position. An Erie native who spent much of her adult life in California, she had retired from a lifetime of working with populations including prison inmates and substance abusers, and wasn't interested in applying for a job when she returned to Erie in 2015.
But she was surprised by the level of gun violence in her hometown.
"Growing up in Erie, Erie was nothing like this," she said. "People that I knew started sending their children away because of the violence."
She had also attended a February 2016 meeting at Blasco Library, where concerns were raised about what impact call-ins might have on the black community. She left that meeting with mixed feelings.
"I came away with the impression that it was like a snitch program," she said, or a program in which community members "called in" to report who should be hauled in before law enforcement.
Instead, the "call-in" refers to when candidates are identified and invited to the event using data based on their criminal histories and other information, Silman said.
Barney-Collins said she felt drawn to the program as she learned more.
"The more I found out about the position and what it entails, the more excited I became about the possibility of hopefully helping to make a positive change in Erie," she said. "Erie's my home. I want it to be a safe community for all, and if there's anything that I can do to help make Erie a safer community, I'm going to do that."
Detailed planning is crucial to ensure services are in place for call-in participants immediately if they accept help, said Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri, who is a lead organizer of Unified Erie and involved in the planning for the call-in.
"The worst thing we can do is not be there for them," Daneri said. It's important to have "the structure in place to actually grab onto them and hold onto them to keep them on the straight and narrow."
The call-in initiative is based on similar programs that have been developed in other cities. Barney-Collins and Silman will travel to Kansas City, Missouri, on Feb. 20 to observe the Kansas City No Violence Alliance call-in program, Silman said.
A Unified Erie contingent previously visited Kansas City in December 2015 to study its call-in program. Since returning from that trip, the group has worked to implement Erie's call-in program in the face of concern from some community members that it might unfairly target minorities.
Organizers remain eager to launch the program as soon as all of the necessary pieces are in place.
The first call-in can't happen soon enough, said Amy Eisert, director of the Mercyhurst University Civic Institute, which does research for Unified Erie and helps organize their programs.
"Everyone wants this to take place, but we want to make sure we are doing it all right," Eisert said.
The call-ins will be ongoing, so Eisert said organizers want to be sure the first call-in runs seamlessly. If the first call-in stumbles, then organizers risk losing credibility for the subsequent call-ins.
And she said organizers must also be ready for a widespread enforcement action following the call-ins, if law enforcement considers one necessary.
"They need to make sure they are prepared not only for a call-in, but an enforcement action, if that takes place," Eisert said.
The Erie Bureau of Police will rely on its vice, Neighborhood Action Team and saturation patrol specialty units to focus intensely on those participants who decline help after the call-in, said Erie Police Chief Donald Dacus.
"That group will then receive our full attention," he said. "The purpose of the call-in is for us to put them on notice that they have our attention and to follow up so there are no empty promises."
Dacus said he will have a speaking role at the call-in.
"I think it's important that they receive my message, so it's clear and they understand what potentially could happen after that day," he said.
Barney-Collins emphasized that the ultimate goal of the call-in program is to make fewer arrests as more participants accept help leaving crime behind.
"We want to stop the killing," she said. "It's about stopping the violence and making Erie safe for all."
Staff writers Ed Palattella and Tim Hahn contributed to this report.
Madeleine O'Neill can be reached at 870-1728 or by email. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNoneill.