Channel 3 invited to VRI call-in with city leaders, known gang m - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Channel 3 invited to VRI call-in with gang members and local leaders

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Some of Chattanooga's most influential gang members came together Thursday night for a meeting with police, prosecutors and community leaders.

This is the city's 8th call-in since the Violence Reduction Initiative began in 2014 and the first since 11 CPD officers asked for a transfer out of the Street Crimes Response Team.

READ MORE | Mayor Berke's VRI begins amid doubters

Channel 3's Dan Kennedy was invited to observe the meeting. 

Thirty gangs members along with family members were invited to the meeting. Those family members watched the proceedings in a different room via live stream. Twenty-five gang members showed up, some wearing ankle bracelets that serve as GPS monitoring devices.

The meeting featured speakers including Public Safety Coordinator Paul Smith, Police Chief Fred Fletcher, an assistant district attorney, a federal prosecutor, a reformed gang member, Hope for the Inner City, a local pastor and a mother who's lost a son to gang violence.

Federal Prosecutor Meredith Edwards warned of long prison terms for federal drug and weapon offenses. She showed a PowerPoint with pictures of some local gang members who were recently locked away. It appeared most knew the subjects on the screen.

At the end of the meeting, they were handed business cards with a phone number to call for help finding a job.

Smith looked them all in the eye and in a stern voice said, "Call that number. But even if you don't call... Stop the violence."

The message had two points: don't kill and don't be a member of the most violent group. Smith, once the principal of Howard High School, knew four of the participants as former students.

The mother of 20-year-old Michael Johnson spoke about losing her son to gang violence. The 2010 murder remains unsolved. She shook the hands of each gang member, looked them in the eye and said "you could've been my son" and "don't put your mothers or sisters through this." Some of those invited say that message hit home. Several of the young men invited said they have children of their own.

 READ MORE | Chattanooga City Council votes to renew VRI contract

The VRI call-ins began in March 2014. Since that time, Chattanooga has held 8 call-ins with more than 150 discreet participants.

  • Six individuals who have attended a call-in have been shot since attending.
  • Eight individuals who have attended a call-in have been arrested with a gun since attending.
  • Six individuals who have attended a call-in have been arrested for a Part 1 Violent offense since attending.

The meeting concluded with a reminder to stop the violence and that the next gang-related murder will result in enforcement action on the gang responsible. That enforcement action includes GPS monitoring devices for members on probation and a complete sweep of prison cells belonging to members of that gang.

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