Turning talk into action, vision group tackles crime

Turning talk into action, vision group tackles crime

June 1st, 2010 in News

Josh McManus is keenly aware he has only a year and a half to help turn what was the biggest community opinion survey of its kind in the world into concrete changes for Chattanooga.

At the entrance to CreateHere, where the two-year STAND movement organized the gathering of more than 26,000 surveys, a giant sign greets visitors with the number of days until "Supernova," when STAND goes out of business.

Between now and then, STAND wants to tackle some of Chattanooga's greatest challenges and promote its biggest virtues, starting next month with crime.

STAND is planning a series of what it calls "civic interventions" in the next five weeks to "stand and deliver" on ways to combat crime. At "city share" luncheons planned for June 9, June 23 and July 7, panels of local experts working on crime and safety issues will meet with interested participants to brainstorm ways to combat what emerged as one the biggest concerns in the STAND survey.

Similar engagements are planned later on education, jobs and the environment.

Crime emerged as one of the biggest community concerns among respondents to the STAND questionnaires, with more than 3,000 references to "gangs" among the surveys completed last fall.

"We're going to start with crime because it's a really hot topic right now," Mr. McManus said.

So far this year, there have been nearly three dozen shootings in Chattanooga.

"Everyone has a role to play in crime reduction," Mr. McManus said. "We want to look at measurable strategies on how you change (the number of incidents of crime)."

In outlining the results of the STAND surveys, the president of the Ochs Center of Urban Studies, David Eichenthal, said crime can and needs to be addressed in Chattanooga.

"Don't let anyone tell you that crime is just something you have to live with because you live in a city," said Mr. Eichenthal, a former finance director for the city of Chattanooga under then-Mayor Bob Corker.

"That's just not true," he told a recent STAND luncheon gathering.

In his native New York City, for instance, Mr. Eichenthal said enhanced police patrols combined with social changes in the Big Apple have combined to cut the number of murders in America's biggest city by more than three-fourths from the peak of 2,245 murders in 1990. Last year, there were 461 murders in New York City, the lowest death toll since police officials started keeping records in 1962.

"It's a story that has been repeated in city after city in this country," Mr. Eichenthal said. "Why is it that we haven't been able to tackle our crime problem in way that other cities have?"

The overall crime rate has dropped in Chattanooga, according to figures from the FBI and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations. But over the past decade and a half, the decline has not matched that of many major cities.

STAND organizers hope that by focusing attention on the issue and giving people ways to help address the issue, that the crime problem can be further reduced.

"The Stand survey revealed a city full of people willing to take action toward improving the quality of city life," said Alison Burke, one of the fellows at CreateHere who worked on the STAND surveys. "Apathy is not the issue in Chattanooga. Rather, there is a disconnect between eager volunteers and meaningful civic opportunities."

Benwood Foundation President Corrine Allen said STAND can serve a vital role of bringing people together to discuss and plot new strategies.

"Rather than depending upon random acts of kindness or a stampede of good intentions, we can really transform this community when we collaborate and focus together for meeting defined needs," she said. "If there is anything we know about Chattanooga is that it is a "can do" community and once you set a purpose together, the community can do whatever it wishes.

"If you want to go fast, go alone," Ms. Allen said. "If you want to go far, go together. Chattanooga needs to go far and it needs to go together."

After focusing on crime this summer, STAND plans similar civic interventions to plot implementation strategies to address concerns about education, economy and the environment and way to do more to promote the region's recreation, Mr. McManus said.