IF YOU GO
• Concerned parents' meeting, 6 p.m. Monday at Tyner Academy, 6836 Tyner Road
• Commissioner Mitch McClure's town hall meeting, 6 p.m. Feb. 7 at Hixson Middle School, 5681 Old Hixson Pike
With police tracking gang members out into rural and suburban parts of Hamilton County, local leaders and parents are worried that fights, shootings and other violence will follow.
Several county officials and parent groups say they're organizing to get ahead of gangs that may be migrating to the suburbs. More than 500 people have joined a Facebook parents group concerned about violence in county schools.
"I think increasingly it's going to be a more universal issue," District 4 County Commissioner Warren Mackey said Friday.
"As the public housing units are dismantled and these people are dispersed throughout the community, I think some of those persons may continue their ways," Mackey said. "I suspect they will look to start recruiting."
Mackey spoke the day after Sheriff Jim Hammond told commissioners at a quarterly luncheon that urban growth in rural areas is bringing urban problems along with it.
Sheriff's deputies are finding validated gang members in places such as Middle Valley, Hixson and Soddy-Daisy, Hammond said. The department relies heavily on intelligence gathered by school resource officers and is tracking the members' movement, he said.
Mackey's district includes Central High School, where police said a gang clash on Jan. 10 led to multiple fights.
Mackey denied at a later commission meeting that Central has a gang problem, but he'd like to see a court watch organized to ensure that defendants charged in violent crimes in his district receive tough sentences.
Court-watch members would be there "not necessarily to say anything, but to let judges know that they're there to watch," he said Friday.
Mackey said he gets a call about once a month from constituents who ask him to file a report for them about some incident in the community.
"People are pretty fearful," he said.
Commissioner Mitch McClure said he's planning a meeting at Hixson Middle School on Feb. 7.
"We're going to be dealing with the violence and gang problems in Chattanooga," McClure said.
He said the Hixson Middle principal told him the school's parent-teacher association had recently discussed the matter.
The parents group that organized on Facebook is planning a meeting Monday at Tyner Academy.
According to the Facebook page, the group is made up of "concerned parents seeking solutions to the problem of an increasing amount of gang related activities that is starting to creep into our school system."
Attempts to reach the group by press time Friday were unsuccessful.