published Saturday, December 21st, 2013

Chattanooga-Hamilton County NAACP has suggestions for anti-crime program

The local NAACP chapter has issued a list of recommendations for the city's anti-crime initiative that is expected to go into full swing early next year.

Eric Atkins, secretary for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County NAACP chapter, said the recommendations were compiled after the organization listened to its members and area residents and researched the crime reduction program.

When Mayor Andy Berke came into office earlier this year, he announced his top priority was reducing crime. Berke said a plan first used in High Point, N.C., under the guidance of David Kennedy, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, will be tailored for the Scenic City. The hope is to reduce the number of shootings, which surpassed last year's totals.

The plan focuses on confronting the offenders with evidence against them and offering them a chance: take advantage of help and change their lives, or spend a long time in a federal prison.

Whether the plan will work has yet to be seen, but Atkins said everyone will have to pitch in.

"This is a responsibility for all citizens and groups and organizations alike. This is a city- and regionwide problem. It's going to take the collaborative strength of all of our efforts to see this through," he said.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's six recommendations are:

• Educating the public on specifics of the Violence Reduction Initiative.

• Targeting the upper tier of criminals in the city responsible for most of the crime.

• Adding an economic empowerment component to criminal justice efforts.

• Placing an emphasis on job training and education.

• Opening a vocational school in the inner city.

• Developing a community crisis response team.

Paul Smith, the city's public safety coordinator, said a meeting involving social service agencies has already taken place. The next meeting is slated for next month.

"It's not enough to build a critical mass just yet, but we have folks who are really serious about it and talking about it," said Smith, when asked how many organizations are on board. "We're getting ideas about calling folks to the table and saying, 'Can you help us now?'"

He said the data is expected to be back by February and teams could start calling in offenders as soon as March.

"By the time we get to those call-ins, those folks will be lined up around the room and not just with business cards but with real offers of help," Smith said.

He said getting residents and wrongdoers to buy into the program will take time. Many politicians have made promises to reduce violence, but most efforts have failed to come to fruition.

"It's really going to take some time to get traction. We didn't get into this overnight," Smith said.

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.

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