published Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Chattanooga City Council backs $340,000 plan to cut crime

Chattanooga City Hall
Chattanooga City Hall
Meghan Brown

Chattanooga City Council members unanimously voted Tuesday to hire a leading national criminologist for $240,000 to teach local leaders his strategy on reducing violence city-wide.

David Kennedy -- whose strategies to tackle gang and gun violence have significantly reduced crime in cities where his plans were implemented-- will come to Chattanooga to create a plan that city officials say will reduce shootings as early as 2014.

Council members approved Mayor Andy Berke's plan to hire Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who will help the city adopt a version of the High Point Initiative in Chattanooga.

The yearlong contract will consist of creating a plan with local government, law enforcement, prosecutors and social services to target a small group of criminals -- the ones officials determine are responsible for the majority of criminal activity.

Berke's Chief of Staff Travis McDonough said all the key figures in the city are on board with the High Point strategy, which takes a different approach to police work and requires a different mind-set for fighting crime.

When Berke took office, he disbanded the existing Gang Task Force that had hired The Ochs Center for $75,000 to evaluate gangs in Chattanooga. Some of the strategies outlined in the Cease Fire initiative Kennedy developed were already being implemented.

"They had community leaders from a variety of organizations that had come up with an implementation plan," said Ken Chilton, the former director of The Ochs Center, who conducted the gangs study.

McDonough said for a High Point-type of initiative to work, it must be fully implemented; having Kennedy on board to supervise and guide Chattanooga's effort is key to its success here.

Council members praised Berke's plan for the High Point Initiative.

Councilwoman Carol Berz said she believes a new group of people coming into the city with a different perspective can only be good.

"[They're] coming in and looking at a city with fresh eyes. [This] is a great way to take a look at ourselves and see if we need to change," she said.

For the next 12 months, the city along with Kennedy and his team, will come up with a plan to introduce the High Point Initiative:

• Organizing the core group of community leaders to implement the plan.

• Organizing face-to-face meetings between gang-members and the partners.

• Putting the gangs on notice that violence will be met with swift and specific response.

The council also voted 7-2 Tuesday to allow Berke to enter an agreement with the International Association of Chiefs of Police to do a top-to-bottom study of the police department for $100,000.

The Chattanooga Police Department already is nationally accredited with the gold standard through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. McDonough said the police chiefs association study will be different because it looks beyond minimum standards.

Chip Henderson and Larry Grohn voted no on the spending resolution. Grohn said the expenditure is a waste of city resources.

"It's $100,000," Grohn said. "To me that's two more police officers on the street."

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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