Two words found their way into almost every question on solutions to Chattanooga's crime problem -- responsibility and involvement.
More than 120 residents were in Bessie Smith Hall on Wednesday for the first panel discussion by Stand, the local group that organized a citywide survey about Chattanooga's problems and solutions.
For an hour, police and local crime prevention leaders answered questions about how to combat crime and improve safety in the city. The meeting grew out of a 2009 survey in which Stand asked more than 26,000 local residents about their top concerns for the area. Crime was the top concern.
"Take responsibility for yourself. Take responsibility for your community," said Chattanooga police Sgt. Toby Hewitt, a panel member.
His comments were echoed when questions arose on fixing blighted neighborhoods and reducing juvenile crime.
Crime problems need tackling on both ends of the spectrum, according to speakers who highlighted the effectiveness of mentoring programs for youth and access to counseling and job placement for inmates returning to the community after serving their time.
"The community has got to take a stand, block by block, street by street," said Vivian Hixson, site director of East Chattanooga Weed and Seed and a panel member. "If not, you get a revolving cycle."
She advised residents to go to the police department's monthly meetings in each sector to share information about crime and to find ways to support education, job creation and programs for youth in neighborhoods.
"If there are kids in your neighborhood who you know are in trouble and need help, make sure you are doing all you can to see that happen," said David Eichenthal, president and CEO of the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies.
Stand Survey information:
* 26,000 surveys taken in fall 2009
* 19 percent from online questionnaire, 81 percent from face-to-face interviews
* 99 percent provided ZIP codes, allowing organizers to group people by neighborhood, along with similar interests
* $430,000 budget
* Survey information at www.chattanoogastand.com
Josh McManus, a Stand leader, said the goals of the panel discussion were to answer questions from the community and to take the perceptions residents have and compare them to the realities of crime in the community.
His biggest concern, he told the audience, was that most of the survey respondents had no problem answering the survey's third question: "What challenges must be addressed?" but very few had answers for the fourth question: "What actions, big or small, can you take to help?"
Mr. McManus said he hoped the panel discussion and other events in the coming months could help residents better answer that question.
The next "Crime in the Community" Stand meeting is scheduled for June 23. A time and location has not been announced.