Mayor commits $1 million for camera system to cut gang violence in Chattanooga

Mayor commits $1 million for camera system to cut gang violence in Chattanooga

Berke also plans to offer scholarships to help families that cannot afford early learning opportunities

April 26th, 2016 by Paul Leach in Local Regional News

Mayor Andy Berke speaks Monday, April 25, 2016 during the State of the City address at the Chattanoogan.

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

“We will not relent. When confronted with a challenge, we address it head on and succeed. We have worked too hard to rebuild our city to allow the criminal acts of a few to put our progress at risk.”
Andy Berke, Chattanooga mayor

The Brainerd Jr. ROTC presents the colors before Mayor Andy Berke speaks Monday, April 25, 2016 during the State of the City address at the Chattanoogan.

The Brainerd Jr. ROTC presents the colors before...

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

USMC Major Chris Cotton, left, and his wife Kelly Cotton, introduce Mayor Andy Berke Monday, April 25, 2016 during the State of the City address at the Chattanoogan.

USMC Major Chris Cotton, left, and his wife...

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

A large crowd listens as Mayor Andy Berke speaks Monday, April 25, 2016 during the State of the City address at the Chattanoogan.

A large crowd listens as Mayor Andy Berke...

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

More security cameras overlooking Chattanooga streets are needed to combat violent crime, Mayor Andy Berke said in his third annual State of the City address on Monday.

To that end, the city will commit an additional $1 million toward public safety cameras and network infrastructure for the police department, said Berke, citing frustration caused by police having to rely on outdated and time-consuming technology when tracking down drive-by shooters. He said he has read too many police incident reports that state only that the shooters were in a dark SUV.

"We need real-time information — the kind that comes when you're monitoring what's happening and letting officers know about it as soon as possible," he said.

Berke said law enforcement will partner with neighborhood leaders and clergy on the best placement of the city's expanding camera network.

The enlarged system will enable police to determine what vehicles are on the streets "in the minutes before and after a shooting" and improve intelligence on the "more chronic offenders," the mayor said.

The City Council likely will support the security investment, Councilman Russell Gilbert said after the address.

"We've really been discussing this already," said Gilbert, citing a program to add security cameras to the recreational centers operated by Department of Youth and Family Development. Those cameras are linked to the police department network.

The expansion of the city's camera presence follows violence countermeasures announced by Berke on Friday after 12 shootings in seven days rocked the city. Those measures include jump-starting the purchase process for a new ballistics investigation system for the police department and the creation of the "Citizen Safety Coalition."

The ballistics technology will better enable law enforcement to match guns with specific crimes and "help prosecutors pursue justice," Berke said.

The coalition will connect citizens who want to stop violence through programming for young people that encourages safe activities, opening neighborhood discussions about violence and persuading violent offenders to stop. The group is led by Olivet Baptist Church Bishop Kevin Adams and Brainerd High School Vice Principal Charles Mitchell.

"We will not relent," said Berke. "When confronted with a challenge, we address it head on and succeed. We have worked too hard to rebuild our city to allow the criminal acts of a few to put our progress at risk."

Berke said he wants Chattanooga to extend early learning opportunities to families that cannot afford them, and he challenged businesses to be more family friendly.

In partnership with the United Way, the city will offer scholarships to help families that cannot afford early learning opportunities, he said.

"These scholarships are aimed at helping families get their kids into high-quality experiences at either a preschool or daycare," said Berke, citing the need to bridge the knowledge gap so more parents understand the importance of developmental opportunities for their children.

The Chambliss Center for Children and Signal Centers will be involved in the program, which will be led by the city's newly created Office of Early Learning, he said.

Berke's "Family Friendly Workplace Challenge" calls for businesses to engage their employees to come up with plans for making their companies more attractive to working parents.

The city government will participate in the challenge, as will Blue­Cross BlueShield, Chattanooga State Community College, EPB and others, said Berke, who credited the Mayor's Council for Women as a driving force behind the idea.

"We have over 100 women that have been working on committees for nearly a year, and they've done an outstanding job," City Councilwoman Carol Berz said of the group, which Berke created in 2015. "The mayor was serious. He listened and now he's turning it into action."

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfreepress.com.

Violent attacks since April 17