This story was updated at 7:05 p.m. with more information.
After two high-profile shootings in Chattanooga earlier this year, including one that resulted in three deaths and 14 injuries, Mayor Tim Kelly released a road map on Thursday designed to bring an end to gun violence in the city.
The plan includes immediate actions and long-term investments to address both current issues and deep-rooted problems, according to a news release from his office.
"This is a problem that Chattanooga has been struggling with every summer for many years now, and our children are hurting, families are grieving and people are fearful and frustrated," Kelly said in the release. "We must unite and take action."
Kelly told the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Thursday that the plan is not entirely different from initiatives launched by his predecessors.
"There's really nothing new under the sun in this work," Kelly said. "I think it's a question of resourcing it properly and not losing sight."
Other Southern cities such as Atlanta; Savannah, Georgia; and Jackson, Mississippi, are struggling with similar issues, and what tends to be effective, Kelly said, is having a violence prevention team. One new component to the city's approach, he said, is that Chattanooga is now looking at gun violence as a public health crisis.
"It is an epidemic," he said. "That's not just language. It's not just a descriptive analogy. It is in fact an epidemic, and you have to treat it that way, and that's the approach we're taking."
In the immediate term, Chattanooga police will continue with the implementation of their "focused deterrence initiative," which has involved placing additional officers on patrol in parts of town that have witnessed recent spikes in crime.
That program launched in early June and will continue on weekends throughout the summer, which is when gun crimes tend to increase. More officers also have been placed in the department's real-time intelligence center to help with rapid response to large crowds on city streets.
As of July 26, these efforts have resulted in 39 illegal gun seizures and 30 arrests, the plan states. The department will continue these efforts every summer, beginning the weekend before Memorial Day.
The mayor's office said officials want to deepen coordination among the Police Department and state and federal partners, which was essential, the city said, in arresting multiple suspects connected with the June 5 shooting on McCallie Avenue.
The city also is restocking its supply of police cameras, adding 25 additional locations across the city and placing five cameras in reserve in case one malfunctions. The Police Department also is exploring other technologies it can use to identify dangerous situations and individuals, including social media monitoring tools.
Existing rules prohibit children 16 and younger to be on the streets after 11 p.m. on weekends, but that curfew has been difficult to enforce, the city said. The Police Department and the mayor plan to put together a new "cooling off space" where juveniles who violate curfew can wait until a guardian can safely pick them up.
In February, the city piloted a "crisis response unit" that pairs a certified mental health specialist with a specially trained police officer. Together, the "co-responder team" works to de-escalate dangerous situations and connect people with mental health services, the plan states.
Funding available in the city's 2023 budget will enable the municipality to staff its crisis response unit to full capacity, the plan states.
Over the long-term, the mayor's office wants to support mentorship initiatives for young people, offer wraparound social services for families with at-risk youth, increase access to mental health services, boost public education on gun safety and continue ongoing efforts to increase affordable housing.
The City Council recently appropriated $30 million in federal funding that Chattanooga received through the American Rescue Plan Act, which the mayor's office said will support several of these long-term efforts. That includes $3.7 million for youth engagement programs and $1.2 million for mental health initiatives.
LaDarius Price, co-founder of a youth mentoring organization called the Lighthouse Collective, said there are children who grow up in single-parent homes or with older grandparents who may be unable to keep consistent tabs on them.
Mentorship opportunities like the ones included in the mayor's plan help bridge that gap, he said, and can also reinforce lessons imparted in households with two parents.
"It provides something for them that is essential for their life," Price said in a phone call. "They're teaching them things that they may not learn in their school. A lot of things that a mentor gives is not math, it's not science, it's not social studies, but it's keys and direction for life."
Boyd Patterson, who headed up a gang task force under Mayor Ron Littlefield, said Kelly's plan is comprehensive and appears to incorporate the four components necessary for gang reduction: prevention, intervention, suppression and reentry.
"All of the components that the mayor's plan involves fortunately have some existing initiatives in town from which to build," said Patterson, who is seeking election as a Criminal Court judge. "What's going to determine its success is the breadth of the partnerships and the level of commitment to make it sustainable."
He added that community outreach activities must be balanced with suppression.
"The carrot doesn't work without the stick, and the stick doesn't work without the carrot," Patterson said.
Kelly has appointed Chris Sands, the director of community engagement for the city of Chattanooga, to serve as interim executive director of community safety and gun violence prevention. Sands will guide the implementation of the road map and lead ongoing engagement with the community, the release stated.
Five days after the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 students and two teachers were killed, Chattanooga was hit with the first of two consecutive weekend mass shootings.
Just before 11 p.m. on May 28, gunfire erupted near 100 Cherry St. and 100 Walnut St. between two groups of young people, injuring six teenagers. Police have since arrested a 16-year-old and a 15-year-old in connection with the case. Their names were not released because they are minors.
Shortly after 2:30 a.m. on June 5, police believe multiple shooters opened fire on McCallie Avenue in front of Mary's Bar & Grill. In addition to the gunfire, several people were injured as a car attempted to leave the scene. In all, three people were killed: Darian Hixson, 24, Myrakle Moss, 25, and Kevin Brown, 34. Fourteen people were injured in the incident.
Police have since arrested three men in connection with the shooting. Garrian King, 28, was arrested June 9 and charged with possessing a firearm as a felon. Alexis Lewis, 36, was arrested June 13 and charged with criminal homicide, reckless endangerment and possession of a firearm during the commission or attempt to commit a dangerous felony. Rodney Harris was charged June 14 for possession of a firearm as a felon.