Cook: 3 ways to spend $50,000

Cook: 3 ways to spend $50,000

December 12th, 2011 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

Fifty thousand dollars.

That's the estimated amount needed to treat a gunshot victim in the U.S. From emergency room treatment to care extended over the rest of his or her life, a gunshot victim will usually receive $50,000 in treatment, according to a 1999 study.

Nearly half of that was paid through Medicaid, Medicare, workers' comp and other government programs, said the study in The Journal of the American Medical Association. In other words, paid by taxpayers.

At the end of October, our city has witnessed 86 shootings with injuries this year. That's 86 gunshot victims, and according to police estimates, gang violence is involved in 65 percent of our city's homicides.

Fifty thousand dollars.

That's also a few thousand dollars more than the estimated cost to incarcerate two people in Tennessee each year. We, as taxpayers, spend $63.41 a day -- or roughly $23,000 a year -- to keep someone in jail, according to 2010 estimates by the Tennessee Department of Correction.

Fifty thousand dollars.

It's also the amount needed to fund research that comprehensively would establish a baseline measurement of gang activity in Chattanooga, said Boyd Patterson, the Hamilton County assistant district attorney charged with leading our city's newly formed response to gang violence.

From graffiti to truancy rates to the times of day arrests are made, this type of research pulls together every aspect needed to measure gang activity.

The work of reducing gang violence begins with this type of research. And it comes with a price tag of about $50,000.

"We're still in need of funding," said Patterson.

Our city sits at a precarious spot. One road leads to deeply established gang activity. If you think we have a gang problem now, multiply it by 10, and that's what it looks like to have a city with what researchers call "entrenched" gang violence.

Essentially, it's what happens when we don't do anything.

The other road leads to a reduction in gang violence. Gangs are here to stay, but their influence

can be countered by detouring kids into alternative programs, increasing crime suppression and strengthening community involvement.

It's part of a five-point plan called the Comprehensive Gang Model, which has been implemented in other cities.

And the first part involves assessment, or research. Any and every influence on gang activity is measured over a 12- to 18-month period. No lasting reduction in gang violence can happen without this assessment.

"We have not been able to secure funding yet," said Patterson.

Why not?

The city government partnered with the county to form the committee that Patterson leads. They've approved the Comprehensive Gang Model and begun work to reduce gang violence. But they can't fund the initial research to start the work?

The city of Chattanooga recently approved a $201 million annual budget for 2011-12.

Last month, it awarded nearly $70,000 to replace the Brainerd golf course greens with Bermuda grass. Two months ago, it awarded a blanket contract for city fencing, which could total out at a $500,000 price tag.

We have a wealth of community foundations in our town, each managing tens of millions of dollars. The Lyndhurst Foundation, for example, distributed nearly $15 million in grants in 2010.

I write this not to criticize, but to rather point out both the vast generosity of our city foundations and the enormity of our city budget. Fifty thousand goes into $201 million more than 4,000 times.

And I think, really and truly, that many leaders are getting serious about serious responses to gang violence. We can't wait any longer. So instead of asking who's going to find the money to pay for the research, I'll ask a different question:

Who's going to be first to jump at the chance to pay for the research?

"We're going to pay for gang violence one way or another," said Patterson. "We can pay for it on the back end or the front end."

David Cook can be reached at davidcook@blumail.org.