People who live in crime-heavy neighborhoods sometimes figure police officers are in on the crimes so it’s no use reporting them, an expert said Friday.
“The bad parts of our country, the bad parts of our cities, are overwhelmingly poor, minority neighborhoods,” and many residents of such communities simply do not trust the police, said David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
To cure the problem, there must be a reconciliation between community members and the police, Mr. Kennedy said.
Officials and others offered their ideas Friday for reducing violent crime in Chattanooga, the most prevalent of which focused on getting members of communities where crimes occur to stand up against it.
Chattanooga’s violent crime rate per 100,000 people is higher than some of the nation’s largest cities, but it’s below that of Tennessee’s two largest cities.
* Detroit: 2,289
* Memphis, Tenn.: 1,951
* Atlanta: 1,624
* Nashville, Tenn.: 1,509
* Birmingham, Ala.: 1,458
* Chattanooga: 1,183
* Knoxville, Tenn.: 1,123
* Huntsville, Ala.: 814
* Los Angeles: 718
* New York: 614
* Raleigh, N.C.: 572
* Providence, R.I.: 560
Source: Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies
At a crime-prevention conference organized by state Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, at the Hamilton County Courthouse, Mr. Kennedy said community members and law enforcement officials must tell the small group of people who commit crimes, “This has got to stop.”
Mr. Kennedy said such an approach has worked in other cities such as High Point, N.C., located between Winston-Salem and Greensboro.
Maxine Cousin, a conference attendee who has protested against the criminal justice system, said forging that trust could be difficult. She brought up former Hamilton County Sheriff Billy Long, who has pleaded guilty to federal gun, drug, money laundering and extortion charges.
“I know something has to be done,” she said. “But we are angry at each other.”
Another part of the approach, Mr. Kennedy said, involves making an example of a gang that commits violent crimes. He advocated rounding up an entire gang — on whatever charges the police can hit them with — if one member commits a violent crime.
Hamilton County District Attorney Bill Cox said he thinks Mr. Kennedy’s suggestions are something to consider, but officials need laws to help them do it.
“We don’t currently have legislation enacted that allows us to do some of the things we need to do,” said Chattanooga Police Department Deputy Chief Mark Rawlston. “We don’t have the stick.”
Sen. Berke said he called the meeting to help deal with Chattanooga’s crime problem.
“Crime is a foundational issue,” he said. “If we don’t have a safe place to live and work, it’s awfully hard to learn. It’s awfully hard to go out at night.”
Incarceration is expensive, and officials need to find new solutions to the crime problem, Sen. Berke said.
Mr. Berke’s Republican opponent in the Nov. 4. election, Oscar Brown, said crime is on his agenda, too.
“I’d like to see a special task force specifically for gangs,” he said. “It’s getting pretty bad. People are not really addressing it like they should.”