Opinion: Too many Chattanooga shootings? Yes, but we’re on the right track. Look deeper

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Police chief Celeste Murphy speaks during a news conference on violence reduction Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022.

Like a number of Chattanoogans, we noticed more news about shootings and carjackings in the first couple of weeks of September, so with an email late Friday afternoon, we on this page made an informal inquiry with a police acquaintance about it.

With our own quick and informal count, we found at least nine shootings that injured at least 13 people, including at least one victim who died. And on Monday, the Chattanooga Police Department put out a news release about yet another shooting with another injury.

But our count was wrong. There were more. And the reply to our inquiry came Wednesday in the form of a public news conference conducted by Chattanooga Police Chief Celeste Murphy.

With candor, she told us and all of Chattanooga, there has been an uptick in violence this month. Through Sept. 11, Murphy said, there had been 12 reported shooting incidents this month. Two of those were accidental, and nine remain active investigations.

But she went further. Much further. Sharing violent crime data, she said Chattanooga had seen 57 shootings and 18 homicides through Sept. 13.

Before you rush to lock your windows, know that those numbers represent more safety, not less.

This year's shooting numbers are significantly lower than numbers from the same time period of 2021 when there were more than twice as many -- 118 shootings, including 26 homicides, between Jan. 1 and the end of September 2021.

Kudos to Murphy. This was a good way to get in front of what certainly would have soon become a more formal and pointed question, especially in light of two back-to-back weekends of mass shootings that shook Chattanooga earlier this summer.

Kudos to Chattanooga Police. Crime is never easy to react to, let alone curb.

And kudos to Mayor Tim Kelly and his administration.

Kelly and crew have jumped to fight gun violence -- both with improved law enforcement and with community engagement and social programs aimed at fighting the root causes of crime. These would be long-term causes such as too much poverty, not enough affordable housing, inadequate early childhood learning and too few parenting programs.

Kelly, announcing his Roadmap to End Gun Violence plan in late July, included long-term and short-term helps like mentorship initiatives for young people, wraparound social services for families with at-risk youth, increased access to mental health services and boosted public education on gun safety. He said the city had appropriated $30 million in federal funding available through the American Rescue Plan Act for those and other needs. That additional funding includes $3.7 million for youth engagement programs and 1.2 million for mental health initiatives.

If the early results count, this is good use of money and good planning.

It isn't just shootings that are on the downswing for the year. Again using police data, numbers show a similar January-to-September pattern for total homicides, aggravated assaults, simple assaults, robberies, forcible sex offenses and kidnappings.

In 2021, the full tally for those crimes was 3,843.

This year, that count is 3,434.

That's a reduction of 409 crimes, or a 10.6% drop.

The new chief, sworn in on April 8, isn't dodging the fluctuations of crime trends (like increases in the summer when young people have too much time on their hands). Rather she and CPD are tracking incidents and trends to mine information to help allocate manpower, time special details and maintain normal operations, she said.

Starting in early June, the department began placing additional officers on patrol in parts of town that have witnessed recent spikes in crime. More officers also were placed in the department's real-time intelligence center to help with rapid response to large crowds on city streets.

Those and other summer initiatives will continue throughout the year, Murphy said, and other city officials have set up programming in collaboration with local civic groups to engage young people in productive activities. She said CPD soon will be looking at collaborating with high schools in the city to come up with extra programming during the school year.

"We want to have two sides to fighting violent crime, and that's the preventative side and the enforcement side," the chief said, "and right now, I think we're doing pretty good in both."

We do, too. Let's keep our fingers crossed.