Punishment for violent VRI offenders may vary - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Punishment for violent VRI offenders may vary

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - A violent week in Chattanooga is leaving some people wondering if Mayor Berke's Violence Reduction Initiative working or not. Ten people were shot and three of them died. Overall shootings in the city haven't gone down much, and homicides are up for the year.

Out of 95 shootings in the city this year, 80 of them are still unsolved; 18 were deadly. However, police say the number of non-fatal shootings has decreased by 8, and seeing major results is going to take more time.

"We're talking about years and years and years of violence that people want fixed in 30 days," said Lt. Todd Royval, who is leading Chattanooga Police in the city's Violence Reduction Initiative. "It's not gonna happen. We know that, and we're doing our best to reduce it as quick as possible."

But six months after the program started, the city has not seen a significant drop in shootings or homicides.

Since March, police have targeted gang members with this message: The violence must stop.

On Monday, it was time to change the plan. Police announced interest in targeting chronic violent offenders who aren't in gangs as well.

"The contribution to the problem could be anything," said Royval. "It could be who they're hanging around with; it could be that they did not get the proper punishment for when they did commit a crime."

"We don't subjectively choose how we want to sentence someone, essentially," said District Attorney General Neal Pinkston. "Those rules are in place, and we have to follow those. The judges do (follow them) when they sentence someone; we do when we agree to a plea and someone gets sentenced."

Pinkston explained sentencing is a complex issue that is dealt with on a case by case basis.

The law sets out standards on state sentences, he said. It takes into account not only the seriousness of the crime, but the criminal's background, too.

For the three lowest classes of felonies, which includes aggravated assault, probation is likely for a first-time offender.

"That's not because we want it that way, or the judges want it that way," Pinkston said. "We just have to follow the rules that are established that we're sworn to uphold, and that's what they are."

Since the first VRI call-in, 90 offenders have been put behind bars, 61 found jobs and 23 are in mentorship programs.

According to Royval, "Every day we're constantly going through, are we doing the right thing? Should we do something else? Who are we missing? What are we missing?"

The VRI also incorporates federal sentences. Those guidelines differ from the state's, and can call for longer prison sentences. Right now seven VRI offenders are serving time in federal prison.
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