What does new gangs 'assessment' buy that we didn't know? - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

What does new gangs 'assessment' buy that we didn't know already?

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Money drives much of how Chattanooga will fight its recently declared War on Gang Violence.

"If we don't do it, there's a whole lot of funding that won't be available to address the problem," City Council Member Peter Murphy says.

More succinctly, the feds help those who help themselves. It's a big reason council members have voted to spend $75,000 so that the home-grown Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies can complete an "assessment" of Chattanooga's gang threat by August 1.

Sound familiar?

"I feel just like I told people back then," Chattanooga Police Capt. Jeff Francis says. "It's a family problem that spills into a community problem that becomes a police problem."

Fifteen years ago, Capt. Francis was Lt. Francis, a key player in a gang task force that, coupled with several grand jury reports, drafted action plans to deal with a growing threat of gang violence.

"They would go out into the community and they would communicate with the community," he says. "They would educate the community."

Newspaper headlines quoted then-Councilman Yusuf Hakeem speaking of the need to "not waste any more time." Others spoke of the need for a "very aggressive assault" to address a problem that "didn't happen overnight".

Hakeem feared "if we don't get control of it, it will engulf us," The Chattanooga Times quoted him as saying in August 1996.

What's changed?

Capt. Francis has declined to offer opinions on what the new assessment should cover. Only one other group responded to the city's Request For Qualifications. It's made up of Chattanooga Police sergeants, including Todd Royval, who oversees CPD's Suppression Unit, the front-line troops in the war against gang violence.

"Ochs offered a more complete proposal," says Boyd Patterson, one of two 'czars' whom Mayor Ron Littlefield appointed to direct efforts against gangs.

The Sergeants' proposal hasn't been made available for inspection. Sgt. Royval is unreachable; his automated email response indicates he's attending the FBI's Training Academy through March 21.

"We look at those (earlier) studies," Ochs Center CEO Ken Chilton says. "But in terms of using their data, there are so many variables. So many statistics can change."

The Ochs Center will "draw heavily from existing data", according to the proposal it submitted in response to the city's Request For Qualifications (RFQ).

But Ochs also plans to survey gang members and at-risk students directly; using community contacts and formal surveys of students in five Hamilton County high schools and five middle schools.

"Actually, a lot of those kids are proud of their (gang) affiliations,"Chilton says. "But like any other study, you cannot say,with any degree of certainty, how truthful the response is."

Researchers also will take stock of the 'safety nets' already available.

Dozens of urban teenagers have joined the enrichment programs offered at the South Chattanooga Recreation Center.

Many attend at the urging of parents or other family members.

"We've increased our efforts to reach more kids that are more at-risk," says Greta Hayes, director of recreation programs for Chattanooga Parks and Recreation. "And getting them involved, at an earlier age."

Parks & Recreation will be asking for another $500,000 to cover program expansions in the budget year that begins in July, Hayes says.

"I do not want this to be a report that just sits on a shelf," Chilton says.

The key to achieving that, city leaders concede, will be persuading police, parents, everybody with a stake in it to buy into action beyond the assessment.

"This is a hoop we gotta go through," Murphy says. "So let's jump through the hoop."

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