Study fallout; Mall "does not have a gang problem"
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -- For almost eleven years, signs at every entrance have made clear, nobody younger than 18, can be in Hamilton Place Mall past 6 o'clock on a Friday or Saturday night, without a parent or adult escort.
"You probably should have a little supervision," says Hillary Monroe, a shopper from North Georgia. "Just to cut down on mischief and getting into things."
Given the gang problem in Chattanooga, it's probably not a bad idea having them supervised," says Melissa Mackey, a mother of two from Sequatchie County.
Chattanooga's Comprehensive Gang Assessment praises the Mall's policy, right after pointing out that Hamilton Place "emerged as a hotspot in the 2010 crime data."
"Hamilton Place has no gang problem," says Boyd Patterson, co-director of the Chattanooga Gangs Task Force. "Two gang members robbed another gang member in 2011. That one pinpoint on a map, taken out of context, is unfairly representative of the gang activity in Chattanooga."
We didn't do the quality control check on it.," says Dr. Rick Mathis, Director of Research for the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies. Ochs partnered with the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga's Center for Applied Social Research to produce the Comprehensive Gang Assessment. "We were relying that the information we got from the Chattanooga Police Department was accurate."
But, the Assessment concludes, such information frequently wasn't.
"Unfortunately, the HCSO (Hamilton County Sheriff's Office) was not able to provide usable data," the researchers write. "The CPD data were provided as raw data files and many inconsistencies and duplications were found in the spreadsheets. In addition, many individual crime records were riddled with missing data about gang affiliation, demographics, and nature of the crime."
"We honestly did the best we could with what we've got," Dr. Mathis says.
Though conceding the weaknesses of the data, the Assessment concludes "they do provide a valuable snapshot of the location of gang crime in Chattanooga."
But task force leaders admit that more is at stake than misinformation which hurt businesses or alarm citizens unnecessarily.
"We don't want to misdirect money or resources," Patterson says. "It's my job to make sure the full context (of the Assessment) gets explained."
Patterson has requested permission to apply for a grant to hire a full-time data analyst, focusing solely on compiling data regarding gang activity. The Assessment concedes "the value is only as good as the inputs."
"It is recommended that law enforcement agencies throughout Hamilton County implement best-practices in gang-related data collection and reporting. Officers should be educated on proper reporting procedures to ensure that accurate information is captured."
Late Friday afternoon, Mayor Ron Littlefield's office issued a statement to all Chattanooga-area media, reiterating much of what you've just read.
"The mall and surrounding area is well managed, carefully monitored and patrolled by both public and private security," the release quotes Mayor Littlefield as saying. "And, to put it bluntly, there is no reason to believe that Hamilton Place has a gang problem."
Shortly thereafter, CBL Properties, owners of Hamilton Place Mall, issued a companion statement.
"We appreciate the support of Boyd Patterson and Mayor Littlefield in quickly correcting the overstatements in the report related to reference of Hamilton Place in the city-wide assessment as a "gang hotspot", the statement reads. "Our priority is to provide a safe, comfortable and enjoyable shopping experience for our customers and we have security procedures in place. This includes our youth escort program, which was implemented in 2001."