Greeson: Chattanooga's Violence Reduction Initiative isn't working, despite three years of trying

Greeson: Chattanooga's Violence Reduction Initiative isn't working, despite three years of trying

October 6th, 2016 by Jay Greeson in Opinion Columns

Chattanooga police Chief Fred Fletcher addresses gang violence reduction efforts with the City Council on Tuesday.

Photo by Paul Leach /Times Free Press.

Jay Greeson

Jay Greeson

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

The Violence Reduction Initiative began in the fall of 2013. The first "call-in" for gang members was in spring 2014.

Yeah, I know, it feels like the Cousin Eddie who sits in our driveway, living from his RV and pumping sewage into our storm sewers.

The first thing that comes to mind is that it's amazing that we've been using this unsuccessful plan for this long.

Did the VRI get tenure? If so, we may never get rid of the tug-of-war program that asks for more and delivers less.

We've heard how the VRI needs more from this agency or that, whether it's the police or a social service agency or the community at large.

There is no shortage of misery to be shared for the big bucks spent and the lack of big impact the VRI has produced.

We have a great police chief, a man who may be the best at his job in city government, and the VRI is easily the biggest smudge on his stellar resume.

We have a diligent district attorney. Claims of his lack of commitment to the VRI have been political cover for a lot of folks who are trying to figure out how to get out from under the shadow this failure has become.

And that leads us downtown.

We have a familiar name sitting in the big chair of leadership in Chattanooga. He's well-educated and well-funded. There's a lot of folks who believe his strongest asset is his recognizable last name in a town that greatly appreciates recognizable last names.

Still, there is no single person to be blamed for the VRI's stuttering progress, not even the mayor, who like quarterbacks and coaches, gets more blame for the bad and credit for the good than he likely deserves.

In fact, I hope we all are of the mind to praise the attempt of failed ideas rather than face the possibility of no potential solution at all.

But looking for new solutions is not the same thing as hoping for new results from failed proposals.

To that end, statements and reactions from Tuesday's Chattanooga City Council meeting deserve some extra attention this morning.

The talking points came as the city was hearing a pitch from the group Father to the Fatherless, which has provided specific social services under the VRI.

Questions were raised about the group's effectiveness.

Our elected leaders should question every initiative funded by taxpayers' funds.

Councilman Larry Grohn asked what steps can be taken "to actually even determine if what we're trying to do with all these funds is even working," according to this paper's Paul Leach.

Larry deserves credit for raising the point, but it's a familiar talking point. It seems we are still searching for an answer.

Councilman Moses Freeman countered that we don't need to have "someone plowing through the database" to determine what is important, adding that what matters is lives saved in a culture where we hear about a new shooting almost every other day.

So, Moses, you're telling us that government should be throwing our tax dollars with next to no oversight whatsoever other than an annual tally?

Then, Councilwoman Carol Berz asked Father of the Fatherless Director April Boozer how her group would report results to the city and how that information could alter future funding (again, this feels like another question that should have been asked long before we started year three on VRI).

"We're still in the process of working on that, as far as collecting the data and knowing exactly where to put it at," Boozer said.

Wow. Three years in and they're still working on how to collect the data and where to put it?

For almost anyone in the private sector, an answer like that would almost assuredly mean a pink slip.

For the VRI in particular, this seems like par for the course.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com and 423-757-6343.

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