Chattanooga's gang steering committee seeks public input

Chattanooga's gang steering committee seeks public input

February 1st, 2012 by Beth Burger in News

Hamilton County District Attorney Bill Cox.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

GETTING INVOLVED

Boyd Patterson, one of the coordinators of the city's anti-gang initiative, can be reached at patterson_b@chattanooga.gov. He said a new Facebook page has been started titled "The Future is Ours," for community members to log on and suggest ideas. A website is still under construction, he said.

Members of a city committee set up to combat gangs hope to learn what community programs already exist and involve community members in the process.

"I think we may be facing a few hurdles right now with perceptions in the community of what's trying to be done," said Hamilton County District Attorney General Bill Cox. "I think that's something that needs to be addressed right off the bat.

"There was discussion about who should be at the table. My suggestion was we'll get a bigger table. ... We need support from the ground up."

City and county leaders began meeting a year ago to address the growing gang population in Chattanooga, which was linked to more than half the city's 25 homicides last year.

"There's a pipeline of kids going into gangs right now. This group needs to cut that pipeline," said Boyd Patterson, coordinator for the city's anti-gang effort. "We need to create our own pipeline -- something positive."

The group has been expanded to include members of the school district, faith-based community, city recreational programs and juvenile justice system.

The committee is following a U.S. Department of Justice plan, which links social services and local governments together rather than relying only on police officers to arrest gang members after crimes occur. As part of the plan, an assessment is conducted to measure community awareness and perception of gangs and youth violence in addition to compiling statistical data.

Greta Hayes, director of recreation for the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, said the recreation centers are ideal places for committee members to host meetings to get community input. There are 25 active neighborhood associations that use the centers to hold meetings routinely, she said.

"Every area is going to have similar concerns but may be affected in different ways," she said.

Ronnie Bullard, pastor of First Baptist Church of Washington Hills, said he already has heard from congregation members who are concerned that current programs aren't being supported and new ones are being implemented.

"Let's support some of the programs we already have in place," he said.

For years, city officials have discussed ways to deal with gang-related violence, yet the violence has continued.

Chattanooga Police Department Capt. David Woosley said the violence isn't going to halt instantly just because the new committee is determined to make changes. When those shootings and deaths happen, the committee members can't just throw up their hands and give up, he said.

"One thing this committee especially needs to remain focused on is that we can come up with the best plan in the history of mankind, but between here and there, people are going to die. Shootings are going to occur," Woosley said. "Gang activity is going to continue. We must not lose focus. Once we start this, if we don't finish what we start, then we become the next group that quit midstream on a lot of these kids."