After two high-profile shootings on consecutive weekends last summer, Chattanooga officials are taking a series of steps this year to cut down on violence. Those efforts will include launching an online portal for students seeking mentors and hiring a team of "violence interrupters."
"We know that gun violence is a public health crisis that threatens the health and well-being of our city," Deputy Chief of Staff Brooke Satterfield told the Chattanooga City Council during a presentation Tuesday. "And we also know that gun violence creates a ripple effect of trauma that does not just stop with the victim."
Norman Kerr, a consultant the city recently hired to help develop violence reduction strategies, told council members the team of violence interrupters will have lived experiences that overlap with people most likely to commit those acts.
"Many of them are returning home, were in the streets at some point, turned their lives around," Kerr said. "They'll serve as mediators to help stop shootings. They'll serve as credible messengers who are trusted by high-risk individuals."
The team will canvass neighborhoods in East Lake, Westside, South Chattanooga, Avondale and Bushtown. It will also include case managers and people specializing in victim services.
The city is planning to launch a six-month pilot program this June that will have a budget of $250,000, Kerr said, and a $2 million grant Chattanooga is seeking from the federal government would supplement that work for the next three years. The city also intends to pursue other funding opportunities.
(READ MORE: Chattanooga mayor releases roadmap for addressing gun violence)
"You're not going to see them standing on a corner breaking up fights with crossing guard belts on — it doesn't look like that," Kerr said in an interview. "What they're doing is a lot of behind-the-scenes conversations. If they know about about conflicts that are escalating, they're going to try to mitigate that through their relationships."
In the event of a shooting, for example, that could involve assessing whether the family of the victim is likely to retaliate and stepping in to defuse the situation.
Officials plan to launch their new mentorship portal in the coming weeks.
"We know that mentorship is one of the most effective strategies for reducing violence because it increases the factors that protect against it, such as staying in school," Satterfield said.
"This new mentorship portal will essentially provide a central location for anyone looking to become a mentor to young people. And mentors will be able to sign up, provide information about themselves and then be connected with an organization and then be matched with the mentee," she said.
Those programs are just a handful of the initiatives city officials summarized during their presentation to council members Tuesday.
Officials also want to start a "peace streak" awareness campaign, which would track the number of days the city has gone without a homicide, Kerr said. Additionally, the city hopes street workers can be accompanied by clinicians who can assist people dealing with mental health issues.
The Chattanooga Police Department is also creating a team of 12 to 18 patrol officers that officials said would be available to flexibly respond to entertainment venues across the city.
"The focus will not be on citations or to make arrests," Executive Chief Glenn Scruggs told the council. "It's to make all Chattanooga enjoyable, whether it's citizens or tourists."
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