Wednesday, April 23, 2014 · 3:32 p.m.
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Group violence is the first target in a crime-reduction model being implemented in Chattanooga.

On Wednesday, Mayor Andy Berke and his public safety coordinator, Paul Smith, updated area law enforcement officials and community leaders on the Chattanooga Violence Reduction Initiative. It’s being coordinated by The Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Mayor Andy Berke speaks to law enforcement officials and community leaders on his crime-reduction strategy. (Photo: Staff)

The model is "an essential piece of the puzzle" to dealing with violent crime, Berke said. Safer streets and making sure residents can move freely without fear are key to improving city life.

"The principles underlying this have been tried in numerous other cities, and they’ve been successful," he said.

It aims to reduce violent crime through a multistep approach over the next year. It includes identifying a targeted focus, research and analyses of crime patterns, direct communication with violent offenders, and arrests of and sustained follow-through with individuals caught in a dynamic that pits different groups against one another in a retaliatory cycle.

The first target is group and youth violence, Smith said.

"It’s not about just a neighborhood, just a sect," Smith said. "It’s about individuals who are causing the problem.

"There are not 90 people out here making this happen," he said. "There are about 15 or 20 that drive the problem."

The initiative is based on similar models used in High Point, N.C., Boston, Chicago and other cities. Boston saw a 63 percent reduction in youth homicide, and Chicago’s overall homicides went down by 37 percent as a result of a similar approach, according to a fact sheet provided by the Berke administration.

Researchers from John Jay College are collecting data—five years of murders, two years of shootings—to put together a collective picture of violent crime in the city. Their assessment will provide more details on Chattanooga’s street dynamic.

"We’re going to go after group violence because that’s what we’re seeing as the main issue right now," said Lt. Todd Royval, Chattanooga Police Department.

The department is working closely with researchers, he said. That work includes providing new data and participating in weekly calls. Royval’s team keeps researchers updated on any shootings or homicides linked to specific groups—it's not just gangs, he said; in some instances, it may be two individuals—and information on group membership and projections of where officers expect to see violence.

Once the research and analyses are complete, a "call-in" with some of the city’s most violent offenders will be the next major step.

David Kennedy, director of The Center for Crime Prevention and Control, is heading the effort.

In an afternoon conference, he outlined the major components and discussed the kind of violent crime that makes it impossible for communities to function.

When looking at core crime issues in most cities, it turns out that they’re driven by very small numbers of exceptional offenders, he told reporters. The typical finding is that those groups represent less than 0.5 percent of a city’s population, but they’re connected to more than 50 percent of homicides.

"Call it offender-on-offender crime—or an offender today is a victim tomorrow," he said. "[It’s] unheard of to look at a city with a meaningful violence problem and not find these groups and group dynamics."

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