published Thursday, December 12th, 2013

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke: Great progress on crime program

Public safety coordinator Paul Smith discusses updates on the
Chattanooga Violence Reduction Initiative during a meeting on
Wednesday at City Hall.
Public safety coordinator Paul Smith discusses updates on the Chattanooga Violence Reduction Initiative during a meeting on Wednesday at City Hall.
Photo by Maura Friedman.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke gave a communitywide update Wednesday on his plan to reduce violence in the Scenic City. It occurred at an invitation-only meeting at City Hall.

A handful of pastors in crisp suits, law enforcement, a single City Council member, an assistant district attorney, a public defender and multiple city employees were given a 20-minute update in which Berke announced he is on track to roll out his version of the High Point crime initiative next year. The mayor has named his plan Chattanooga's Violence Reduction Initiative.

"The reason I brought you here today is I spent a good portion of my time talking about this, thinking through this, working with the police department ... about how we implement this initiative," Berke said. "You're going to see today what I think is great progress in where we've gotten too."

Officials didn't give any specific dates on when the initiative will launch or offer any other new details about how the initiative will work. Public Safety Coordinator Paul Smith and a police lieutenant briefed the group on their work with national criminologist David Kennedy's team to identify who the worst offenders are and where they live.

Afterward, the group was given a chance to ask one question.

One of the five pastors asked whether kids would get a chance to turn their lives around. He was told yes. Other hands were in the air, but before their questions could be addressed Berke thanked everyone for coming and ended the meeting.

No one from the NAACP was invited, President James Mapp said.

Late in November, the NAACP called a meeting after Chattanooga Police Department officials described 32 black men arrested on multiple drug charges the "worst of the worst" in the city.

Part of Berke's violence reduction plan is to implement a strategy developed by Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Kennedy's premise: The most violent crime comes from a very small pocket of the community.

That means for police must first identify who are the criminals responsible for the most violence in the city and identify where those criminals live. Police target those groups -- Kennedy does not use the word "gangs" -- and bring them in for meetings with stakeholders. They are told to shape up, get help from local service agencies, whether it's help getting a job or continuing their education, or go to prison for a long time.

During Wednesday's meeting, police Lt. Todd Royval announced that police and three of Kennedy's assistants have mapped out patterns from five years of homicides and two years of shootings. Officials are now working with the criminology experts to identify the groups causing the most violence.

"We just didn't throw names out there," Royval said. "It was a long process and a grueling process that they took all that data in."

Kennedy spoke with reporters by conference call. He said Chattanooga is making progress and residents should be able to tell fairly quickly if the new strategy is working.

After the first meeting with the violent groups, a community normally sees some decrease in violence, he said. If not after the first meeting, it usually happens by the second meeting, Kennedy said.

"If homicides, gun woundings for instance, go down, then things are moving in the right direction," he said. "If they don't, it's not working."

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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