Ensuring public safety has been one of the core components of Chattanooga mayoral candidate Andy Berke's campaign, and recently, the candidate has named specific crime-reduction models he would like to emulate if elected mayor.
In a recent letter to supporters, Berke said he would "push policies" that have a proven track record of reducing crime in other cities. Specifically, Berke named the High Point Initiative and the Maryland Policies on Domestic Violence as models he would consider seeing replicated in Chattanooga.
"I will continue to pursue ideas we should explore and adapt to in Chattanooga," Berke wrote. "Through improving officer morale, adopting smart policies and pushing a data-driven approach, we will improve this critical area."
The High Point Initiative was implemented in High Point, N.C., in approximately 2004 and sought to deter drug markets by arresting violent dealers and offering nonviolent dealers an opportunity to restore relationships with the community through programs and interventions. If a participant returned to criminal activity, a series of cases "banked" against him or her by local law enforcement would be activated, an arrest would be made and appropriate penalties would be sought.
The program also took into account issues of demographics, including race, in its community-oriented approach to addressing criminal activity and drug markets.
According to a National Institute of Justice report, the program had a high record of success in High Point. And though it did not completely deter crime problems in 25 other cities, the program had similar results with reductions in violent and drug-related crime without displacement.
In an interview with Nooga.com, Berke said he became interested in the High Point model after hosting David Kennedy, whose career has focused on addressing gang and inner-city violence, to a conference in Chattanooga in 2008. Berke said he had been thinking about how aspects of the model could impact Chattanooga "for a long time" and suggested it could be a way to address wider crime issues.
"Mr. Kennedy talked about the High Point Initiative, which focuses on involving community members and reaching out to people to make sure that the approach to stopping violent crime and drugs is sustainable," Berke said. "It also makes sure that the right people are targeted so that acts of violence can be stopped in our community."
Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd said Saturday he had spoken informally with Berke on several occasions recently, although not specifically about his plans for addressing crime if elected mayor. Dodd said he was familiar with the goals of models like High Point and had seen similarities to parts of the program in Chattanooga during his three years as chief.
"What you really want to do is empower the community and officers in the community to use resources and the law to deal with quality-of-life issues," Dodd said. "It transitions from that, and we've seen a broad spectrum of that. We're kind of a hybrid model of community-oriented policing, but we also try to empower citizens to realize that they can have as much crime in their neighborhood as they're willing to allow."
Dodd said he didn't think Chattanooga currently suffered from an "open air market" problem, similar to the one High Point sought to address, but added that problems were still pervasive in certain areas of the city. Dodd said he would like to see partnerships emerge between the city, the police department and other communities in Chattanooga, such as businesses and nonprofits, to offer certain nonviolent criminals an opportunity to turn their lives around through quality, career-oriented job programs with strict guidelines.
"You'd have to jump through hoops to be considered for it," he said. "You'd be on thin ice with stringent rules, but there would be opportunity. You can't bring a guy making hundreds of dollars a week out of the drug and gang business for a job that pays him $7.50 an hour to scrape graffiti off a building."
Berke's interest in the Maryland Policies on Domestic Violence was, in part, linked to the concept of a "lethality screen," he said. Berke said the tool had been developed to identify which cases of domestic violence were the most likely to escalate into homicides and had resulted in a 40 percent decline in domestic homicides in the state.
"Harvard researchers named it one of the country's 50 best innovations in government," Berke said.
Regarding his interaction with the police department if elected, Berke said he shared the common goal of wanting to see the city succeed, in part by reducing crime. Berke said he hoped law enforcement officials would be open to the consideration of policies he would push if elected next week.
"I've had discussions with some people currently in law enforcement about these ideas," he said. "As mayor, my administration would work with law enforcement to make sure they have the right tools to meet the goals that we set by discussing policies like the High Point Initiative and the lethality screen, so we can make sure our city is safer."
Dodd said he hoped to continue in his role as chief under the next mayoral administration, despite rumors that he may retire or consider running for sheriff. Dodd added that, despite recent controversies between the police department and City Hall regarding pay increases and take-home cars, he felt that the department had been well-supported by the city.
"We've got a lot of good things going on," Dodd said. "… I'd like to stay where I am and finish. I enjoy what I'm doing."
Along with Berke, Guy Satterfield and Chester Heathington Jr. are candidates in the mayor's race.
Election day is March 5.