Mayor Berke responds to councilman who calls VRI a "failed program"
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berle (left) and CPD Chief Fred Fletcher. WRCBtv.com photo
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke is responding to a letter from a councilman who says the Violence Reduction Initiative has failed the city.
Councilman Yusuf Hakeem said this weekend's double murder is the "last straw in supporting a failed program." Hakeem, who represents District 9, sent a note Wednesday afternoon to the mayor, council members and the media saying he no longer supports the VRI.
Mayor Andy Berke responded to the letter and told Channel 3 Thursday he's open to new, specific ideas to add to the existing comprehensive public safety plan.
"Over the last few years, we have put into place a variety of criminal justice initiatives to address violence in our community," Berke said in the statement. "Chief Fletcher and our police officers are engaged in many initiatives to combat violence in our community and I will continue to support their hard work."
Police Chief Fred Fletcher issued a similar statement Wednesday night to Channel 3. He wrote in part, "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."
Hakeem represents parts of East Chattanooga where many of the city's shootings have happened. He attended one of the VRI call-ins in 2014 and is on the record saying he was encouraged and humbled by what he witnessed that evening.
"We were not asking them to tell on this person or tell on that but affording them the opportunity to understand that you're at a crossroads. You need to make a decision that you're going to be a law-abiding citizen or the hammer is going to come down hard on you," Hakeem told Channel 3 after the October 2014 call-in.
The VRI call-ins are held every few months at an undisclosed location. Dozens of gang members are told to attend the meeting, where they'll hear from city leaders, a reformed gang member, someone affected by gang violence, and others.
The VRI officially began in March 2014 and almost two years later, Hakeem's stance has changed.
"I am asking that we consider another way of battling crime and safety issues," he wrote in the letter. "As we start our current budget review process, I cannot support the Violence Reduction Initiative any longer. Let us find a better route to reducing crime so that citizens would feel and be safer in the City of Chattanooga."
The mayor's full statement reads:
"Over the last few years, we have put into place a variety of criminal justice initiatives to address violence in our community. Though our multi-pronged approach, we have budgeted for more cops than ever before, hired a Federal Prosecutor, incorporated Community Policing and Focused Deterrence principles department-wide, sharpened our focus on chronic offenders, domestic violence, and gang violence, and established initiatives to intervene with juveniles headed on the wrong path. Chief Fletcher and our police officers are engaged in many initiatives to combat violence in our community and I will continue to support their hard work. That said, I welcome ideas on any additional, specific initiatives we could add to our existing comprehensive public safety plan to make our streets safer.
Last, I would encourage anyone with any information on the recent violence to come forward. There are people in our community who know what happened. I am asking for their help now. If they don't help, the cycle will continue. Whoever shot and killed the parents of that 5 year old boy on Sunday night should be in jail. We need people's help putting this criminal behind bars."