"Violence Reduction Initiative is working in Chattanooga" - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

"Violence Reduction Initiative is working in Chattanooga"

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - With the recent violence, some Chattanooga leaders are questioning the effectiveness of the city's Violence Reduction Initiative. The local NAACP president spoke out last week voicing frustration.

Channel 3 spoke with the founder of the Violence Reduction Initiative to get his take on if it is working in Chattanooga. 

David Kennedy is the director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He developed the High Point Initiative, which the VRI is modeled after. In High Point, North Carolina there was a dramatic drop in crime after the program started in 2003 but it still took two years to see a 20 percent drop in violent crime. He says the VRI is on the right track.

"We depend on our elected officials to come up with policies and procedures and programs that make our lives better in our communities, yet it's not working," says Dr. Elenora Woods, president of the Chattanooga NAACP.

Woods says some community members are frustrated with the VRI and are questioning its effectiveness.

"VRI is working. Are we having overnight success? No," says Dr. Paul Smith, Chattanooga's Public Safety Director.

Smith says 10 months in to VRI, progress is being made.

"This happens over time. Not overnight. As we work together with any organization or group or community entity that wants to be a part of curbing the street violence and gang violence, we welcome all comers and all ideas that are brought to the table."

He points to an overall decrease in gang related shootings by 18 percent at the end of 2014, a direct result, he says, from the call-ins with area gang leaders. He says he can understand why the community may be troubled by a jump in homicides.

"How many of those are group member related? How many of those are actually street violence and how many of those are homicides from other kinds of violence?"

Of 2014's 27 homicides, 15 involved group members.

"Violence is not down over the calendar year as we would want. Overall violence is not down as we would want. Group member involved violence is not down as we would want," says David Kennedy, with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Kennedy admits the overall violence is troubling but says efforts to curb gang violence are on the right track.

"What we saw after the last call in, what we have seen after the last call in is the kind of reduction in shootings the approach is designed to produce," says Kennedy.

Fourth quarter numbers, after the last call-in in October 2014, show there were 50 percent fewer gang-related shootings than the fourth quarter of 2013.

"This is a process of engaging with the streets," says Kennedy.

Kennedy says that is where he agrees with the NAACP; that broader community action is still needed to address issues like job opportunities, saying the VRI fits into the bigger picture of improving disparities.

Smith says his office is coordinating for Kennedy to visit in the coming months. 
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