Chattanooga renews contract with key Violence Reduction Initiative nonprofit

Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher speaks at a news conference at the Police Services Center on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015, in Chattanooga.
Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher speaks at a news conference at the Police Services Center on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015, in Chattanooga.

Overall crime in Chattanooga is down by about 19 percent compared to this time last year, police Chief Fred Fletcher told City Council members at a presentation on Tuesday.

Violent crime dropped from 1,159 incidents to 1,104 - about a 5 percent drop - while property crime between January and August 2014 dropped 22 percent from 7,483 incidents to 5,835 this year, according to police.

Fletcher updated council members on the state of the city's crime as the council considered whether or not to renew the city's contract with nonprofit Hope for the Inner City, the organization that heads the social services side of the city's Violence Reduction Initiative.

Chattanooga shootings, year-to-date

Includes accidental shootings and justifiable homicides2015 - 1032014 - 1032013 - 102Source: Chattanooga Police Department

Gang-related shootings, year-to-date

2015 - 592014 - 602013 - 67Source: Chattanooga Police Department

The council voted to renew Hope for the Inner City's $290,000 contract shortly after hearing from Fletcher on Tuesday.

The VRI, launched by Fletcher and Mayor Andy Berke in March 2014, aims to offer violent gang members a choice: get out, get help and stop killing each other - or suffer heavy police enforcement against you and your associates.

The initiative targets only the small group of people who are responsible for the majority of Chattanooga's gang-related gun violence, Fletcher said. Police periodically "call-in" the most violent gang members for face-to-face meetings to lay out the choice between police enforcement or stopping the violence.

In the 18 months since the VRI started, police have hosted seven call-ins attended by 134 gang members, Fletcher said. In that same time frame, police also conducted eight "enforcement actions" - when police target a specific gang or group - which resulted in 213 arrests, according to police.

Enforcement actions include both gang members who did and did not attend a call-in. Of the 134 men who actually attended a call-in, 58 have since been arrested for everything from texting while driving to weapon offenses, according to police. Six were arrested for what police call 'Part 1 Violent Offenses' - rape, robbery, homicide or aggravated assault. Another eight were arrested for possession of guns. And six gang members who attended a call-in have since been shot, Fletcher said.

"Considering these are some of the most at-risk members in our community - they're being brought in because our intelligence shows they are the most at-risk for being a victim or perpetrator of violence - having those relatively low numbers is a good sign that we're preventing people from being victims," he said.

On the social services side, Hope for the Inner City has worked with 398 people since the VRI began, according to police. The organization helps gang members and their family members find jobs, relocate, get an education and meet various needs, mentor Aaron Anderson told council members.

Several council members lauded Fletcher and Hope for the Inner City for their work.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury 423-757-6525 or with tips or story ideas.