Rash of Chattanooga shootings breaks the calm

Rash of Chattanooga shootings breaks the calm

August 7th, 2014 by Shelly Bradbury in Local Regional News

Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.


July 28: 262 W. 38th St. -- A 22-year-old is shot in the knee

July 29: 4217 Ohls Ave. -- A 34-year-old is shot in the hip

Aug. 2: 4900 Brainerd Road -- A 25-year-old is shot in the leg

Aug. 3: 1403 Tunnel Blvd. -- A 26-year-old is shot twice in the leg

Aug. 4: 3211 Harrison Pike -- Two men, 18 and 20, are shot in the arm and foot

Aug. 5: 1000 N. Orchard Knob -- A 19-year-old is shot in the arm

Aug. 6: 1703 E. 14th St. -- Three males, 16, 18 and 19, are shot during a drive-by

Source: Chattanooga Police Department


Shootings: 72

Firearms-related homicides: 14

* To date

Source: Times Free Press records

Eight people have been shot in Chattanooga during the past five days.

A 16-year-old was shot in the abdomen. A 26-year-old was shot in the leg. Arms, feet, ankles -- the rash of gunshot wounds is especially conspicuous because it follows two weeks of calm, when no one was shot at all in the Scenic City.

But this increase in violence was not unexpected. In fact, for weeks now, police have been planning to put extra officers on the streets this weekend, hoping to deter an anticipated spike in violence as youths head back to school and people who haven't seen each other much all summer are suddenly rubbing shoulders again.

"We wanted to do it this weekend because we anticipated that the return to school would see a spike in violence," Police Chief Fred Fletcher said Wednesday. "What we regret is it looks like we may have missed the target by a week."

The department is using a mix of data and anecdotal experience to predict which neighborhoods will experience violence, and when. Anytime a large group gathers -- like when students head back to school and face the stress of a new schedule, new teachers, a new environment -- police try to get ahead of any trouble by placing visible deterrents in well-trafficked spots, said Chief of Staff David Roddy.

This weekend, Fletcher is sending five officers and a sergeant into the neighborhoods where analytics show violence is likely, asking them to leave their cars parked in high-profile areas -- lights flashing -- and patrol the streets on bikes.

They'll be working overtime, and will be very visible, Fletcher said.

"We're going to put extra officers out there on bicycles, in a somewhat vulnerable position outside their cars, where they can make positive encounters with the community," he said.

Later he added, "We want our officers to let people know we're here to help them feel safe, so they can flip that street code of not snitching into the community code of working with their neighbors to keep their community safe."

The street code of silence -- the "snitches get stitches" kind of attitude -- has been a hindrance as police investigate this week's five shootings. Many of the victims aren't cooperating with police, which makes it hard for investigators to identify suspects.

So far, police have no solid evidence that this week's shootings are connected, and while some of the victims are loosely affiliated with gangs or groups, police say the shootings are not clearly gang-related.

The police department is working to form a group of neighbors who can counter the on-the-streets peer pressure with their own pressure -- encouraging victims to cooperate with police, Fletcher said.

"We want to turn the code of the street into the code of the neighborhood," he said.

Highland Park resident Curt Zacharias said he's glad to hear police will be focused on visibility this weekend, although he still worries about a stray bullet reaching his home.

"It'd be awesome if police were cruising around our neighborhood on a regular basis on foot or on bicycles, because you can see a lot more of what's going on that way," he said.

Still, for the eight victims who were wounded since Saturday, any increased police presence this weekend comes too late.

"It pains me to think we had the right philosophy and the right leadership, and our data led us to the wrong days," Fletcher said, and paused. "We're absolutely committed to trying to refine that process."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas.

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