Community groups and church organizations have been identified by local leaders as some of the best ways to prevent gang involvement in Chattanooga, but new and existing efforts by the police are the main ways the city of Chattanooga is working to suppress existing activity.
"We can't have civil rest without good law enforcement," said Gang Task Force co-coordinator Boyd Patterson. "Our forces are serious about taking out the most violent gangs and gang members."
The forces Patterson is referring to are the Chattanooga Area Gang Enforcement team which was established earlier this year and includes almost every department of law enforcement within the cities of Chattanooga, East Ridge and Red Bank, Hamilton and Walker counties, probation and parole professionals and several federal organizations including the FBI and DEA.
After the group successfully implemented two gang suppressions this winter and the state passed RICO legislation, which makes it easier to prosecute people participating in organized crime, Patterson and his partner Fred Houser said they hope local gang members understand that Chattanooga is prepared to deal with them.
"The message that CAGE has delivered is a message we're hearing back from the streets," said Houser. "We hope that message continues to be that the forces have been organized and Chattanooga won't tolerate gang activity."
Even though the new legislation and local commitment to combat gangs put the city in a position to continue eliminating problems, Houser said involvement from local residents is an important part of that process.
"The most effective way to work with the police is to call or phone in and report incidents," he said. "We're seeing more organizations within neighborhoods as a result of the isolated and repeated crime occurring."
Houser listed graffiti, suspected drug trafficking, vandalism, general disrespect of neighbors or property, large or loud congregations, open containers of alcohol and obvious public drug use as some of the things he encourages local residents to call in to the Chattanooga Police Department's non-emergency number at 698-2525. He said other things like overgrown lots, abandoned houses and other possible city code violations can also sometimes be useful in leading law enforcement to potential gang problems.
Especially since CAGE's creation, Houser said seemingly unrelated or insignificant reports can be coupled with other evidence to help remove gang members from the streets and combat gang violence.
"People need to learn to report the right way, without fear, because there's a mindset and understanding with some people that if they report they'll be singled out for reporting," he said.
Houser agreed that sometimes fear of retaliation is legitimate but said organizing a Neighborhood Watch group or communicating with the Task Force to find out the best ways to work with them can help eliminate that problem.
"Some neighborhoods have risen up and said enough is enough without becoming vigilantes," he said. "There are creative and safe ways to deal with issues and work with law enforcement."
For more information contact Patterson at firstname.lastname@example.org and Houser at email@example.com.
This is the third and final installment in a three-piece miniseries about the different facets of gang prevention in the Metro Chattanooga area. The preceding two pieces included information about the ways community and local ministries can help the prevention and intervention efforts. If you missed them you can read them online at http://community.timesfreepress.com/news/community_e-paper_archive by clicking on either the June 6 or 13 edition, respectively.