Committee set up to combat gangs in Chattanooga moving forward

Committee set up to combat gangs in Chattanooga moving forward

November 2nd, 2011 by Beth Burger in News

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond speaks Tuesday to a board of local officials about what needs to be done to remedy Chattanooga's gang problem.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd speaks Tuesday to a board of officials about what needs to be done to remedy Chattanooga's gang problem.

Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd speaks Tuesday to...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

POLL: Is Chattanooga's gang problem out of hand?

Assistant District Attorney Boyd Patterson speaks to a board of officials about what needs to be done to remedy Chattanooga's gang problem early Tuesday morning at the County Courthouse off of Georgia Ave.

Assistant District Attorney Boyd Patterson speaks to a...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

A steering committee set up to combat gangs in Chattanooga took steps Tuesday to discuss the Chattanooga area's growing issue.

Although the committee has met a handful of times since early March, officials are still in the early stages of implementing a federal plan issued by the Department of Juvenile Justice to combat gangs.

The plan, which links social services and local governments together rather than relying only on police officers, requires that a project director be hired to coordinate efforts.

At Tuesday's meeting, Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd was named chairman of a subcommittee, which also includes Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond and Hamilton County Assistant District Attorney Boyd Patterson. The subcommittee will interview candidates for a project director's position.

The committee plans to make more progress in light of the growing number of shootings and gang-related homicides.

To date, 15 out of the city's 23 homicides this year -- 65 percent -- are gang related, up from 30 percent in 2008.

Since officials began meeting in early March, there have been 19 homicides resulting from gun violence, two of which were domestic related, according to records.

"I don't know that anybody has the silver bullet. I think it's important we move it forward. Everything I've heard today, I've heard before several months ago," Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Tuesday. "I think if we really need to address it -- I know everybody wants to address it. In order to move it forward, this position of director seems to be more important than I thought it was."

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said the person hired as director must be selected carefully and given the community's support.

"[The position is] going to have to involve a lot of other elements. ... They shouldn't be responsible for everyone performing," Littlefield said. "One thing I don't want to happen is you hire somebody; they are brought in like they are going to be the new savior; you give them all this responsibility; things don't happen right away and then we're sending them out of town as the scapegoat."

The director would be a city-created position funded by job vacancies, Littlefield said in a previous interview. When last asked about a job description, which is required in the plan, he said he wasn't sure if he had one in the file.

Dodd said initially the anti-gang effort will need strong crime suppression to deal with climbing numbers in gang membership.

"But going into this, we're going to have to realize that some kids, some teenagers, just need to go to jail," he said. "You can't save them."

As an example, he cited a midnight basketball program in which youth were allowed to play late at night and police officers were paid overtime. He said shootings continued during the program.

"These kids aren't same ones who are going, 'Should I go down shoot hoops, play volleyball or blow somebody's brains out?' That kid's not making that decision when he leaves the house. That kid's got his mind made up. It's been made up for years."

The committee did not schedule a new meeting but is expected to meet before the Thanksgiving holidays. Members plan to reach out to United Way, Erlanger hospital officials and the Hamilton County school district as well as members of the faith-based community.

When a plan is implemented, the one thing it will take is time, committee members said.

"This is something that every Chattanoogan is going to have to come to the reality that gangs are not going away," Patterson said. "We're going to be dealing with gangs the next five to 10 years. It's just what level are we dealing with them on."

Dodd estimated it will take more time than that.

"That's a little more optimistic than I would be. Everything we are doing today and going forward," Dodd said. "It may be for the kids sixth grade and down right now. It may not help anyone above that level."