UPDATE: Councilman says "Mayor Berke's VRI has failed Chattanoog - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Councilman says "Mayor Berke's VRI has failed Chattanooga"

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Chattanooga City Councilman Yusuf Hakeem (left) and Mayor Andy Berke. Chattanooga City Councilman Yusuf Hakeem (left) and Mayor Andy Berke.
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

Councilman Yusuf Hakeem sent this letter Wednesday to fellow council members and Mayor Berke saying the VRI has failed.

He raised two questions: 

  1. Do you or your constituents feels safe from crime and violence?
  2. Could dollars be better invested into local law enforcement?

“Three years, millions of dollars and we today have out of control violence in our streets. That says we have to do it a different way,” said Yusuf Hakeem.

The Berke administration said on prior occasions the program needs more time to work. They say dozens of gang members have gotten off the streets and into jobs since its inception. 

Channel 3 reached out to Mayor Berke Wednesday to find out if he had the chance to read over the letter.

His spokeswoman told us he hadn't, but forwarded our email to Chief Fletcher who replied with a statement that reads:

"As a law enforcement professional, I believe focused deterrence is the right way to police. When you boil it down, it’s just good police work -- officers spend their time investigating, interrogating, and arresting the worst offenders in the city. I’m not willing to compromise that. 

Just today, we arrested two individuals with a carload of guns based on a tip that we got through our focused deterrence efforts. That is because of the hard work of police officers who have a focused approach to gang violence. If you have any additional solutions to offer, I welcome the discussion as do the over 400 officers who work each day to keep us safe. 

We not only utilize VRI, but numerous best practices to keep our Community safe. I am not willing to take a single tool off the table -- because we have too much work to do."

Councilman Hakeem said the VRI gets in the way of police doing their jobs. He said getting rid of it will allow officers to be more aggressive when tackling violence.

“I feel that more we should put it directly into law enforcement. There are programs that Chief Fletcher wants to put into place to draw minorities into the police department. So there are a number of things that can be done, that are not being done, and I think that we need to move forward,” said Hakeem. 

Councilman Hakeem hopes to sit down soon with the mayor, chief, and council members to talk about a new strategy in tackling gang violence. 

Stay with WRCBtv.com for updates to this story.


PREVIOUS STORY: A Chattanooga City Council member is no longer supporting Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's Violence Reduction Initiative. 

In a letter to Mayor Berke and the other council members, District 9 Councilman Yusuf Hakeem says the VRI program "has failed in Chattanooga."

Hakeem says the double homicide on East 13th Street over the weekend is more proof for him of the program's failure.

READ MORE | Police continue following leads in weekend double homicide

"For me, this act of violence was the last straw in supporting a failed program," says Hakeem.

The councilman asks the mayor if the millions of dollars the city has invested in the program over the last three years could be better invested in local law enforcement?

READ MORE | Chattanooga City Council votes to renew VRI contract

Hakeem says as the city's budget review process begins, he "cannot support the Violence Reduction Initiative any longer" and looks to discuss other ways of battling crime and safety issues.

READ MORE | "Violence Reduction Initiative is working in Chattanooga"

Channel 3 has reached out to Mayor Berke for a response. His communications director, Lacie Stone, says the mayor has not seen the letter from Hakeem. Stone also says it's inaccurate that the police department has spent millions on the VRI program.

Berke's office sent us the following statement from Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher, who says there is still work to be done.

"As a law enforcement professional, I believe focused deterrence is the right way to police. When you boil it down, it’s just good police work -- officers spend their time investigating, interrogating, and arresting the worst offenders in the city. I’m not willing to compromise that. 

Just today, we arrested two individuals with a carload of guns based on a tip that we got through our focused deterrence efforts. That is because of the hard work of police officers who have a focused approach to gang violence. If you have any additional solutions to offer, I welcome the discussion as do the over 400 officers who work each day to keep us safe. 

We not only utilize VRI, but numerous best practices to keep our Community safe. I am not willing to take a single tool off the table -- because we have too much work to do."

Councilman Hakeem's full letter:

To: Members of the Chattanooga city council and mayor Andy Berke
From: Councilman Yusuf Hakeem, District 9
Date: February 3, 2016
Subject: Violence Reduction Initiative

Lady and Gentlemen,
 

As a lifelong resident of Chattanooga and your colleague, I need to share with you my thoughts on crime and safety in the City of Chattanooga. I believe a number of citizens feel the same way. I am horrified by the tragedy this weekend on East 13th Street, where a double murder took place and the heart wrenching composure of the 5-year-old who called 911. I am concerned about the possible psychological trauma this child may encounter during his life as a result of losing his parents. For me, this act of violence was the last straw in supporting a failed program. Mayor Berke's Violence Reduction Initiative has failed Chattanooga. A couple of questions we have to ask ourselves:

1. Three years into Mayor Berke's Violence Reduction Initiative, do you or your constituents feel safer from crime and violence?

2. With millions of dollars already invested in mayor Berke's Violence Reduction Initiative, could those dollars be better invested directly into local law enforcement?

With anemic, sub-par results from Mayor Berke's Violence Reduction Initiative, I am asking that we consider another way of battling crime and safety issues. As we start our current budget review process, I cannot support the Violence Reduction Initiative any longer. If this is a concern, let us communicate with each other in a transparent and open way, hopefully in the future Strategic Planning meeting. Let us find a better route to reducing crime so that the citizens would feel and be safer in the City of Chattanooga.

Councilman Yusuf Hakeem

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