published Friday, March 21st, 2014

Chattanooga's first anti-violence call-in meeting a success, expert says

Young men leaned forward in their chairs. They listened as prosecutors, police, outreach workers, city leaders made a plea to them: Put down your guns.

About 25 men, all on probation, gathered Thursday night to hear that help is available to them if they want it. The men were called into the meeting, held as the first step in Chattanooga's Violence Reduction Initiative aimed at reducing gun violence in the city.

“This was the best first one I've ever seen, and in a lot of ways it was the best I've ever seen," said David Kennedy, a criminologist from John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York, whose crime model, called the Violence Reduction Initiative, is being emulated in Chattanooga. "There was something special that came together."

Kennedy began doing "call-in" meetings in 1996 in an effort to reach those who were connected to violence. Varying degrees of success have occurred in other cities across the country that have followed Kennedy's model.

Kennedy has been in Chattanooga to help roll out the Violence Reduction Initiative this week.

He always makes a point of observing those invited to the meeting.

“I watch their expressions, their body language, their attitudes, and I had never ever seen every seen every single one of them receptive open and paying attention from the the very beginning,” he said of last night's group of young men.

“The got it from the moment they sat down. Every single one of them stayed when they were free to go. They talked to the mayor. They talked to the police. They talked to the prosecutors. Some of them are still in there. It was just extraordinary," he said.

Normally the people invited to the meeting — typically young men — are sometimes hostile.

“They are pretending they don't care. They give off this withdrawn, passive aggressive attitude,” he said.

There was none of that during the meeting Thursday night. Some even wept.

“They clearly knew they were being treated with respect,” he said.

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