published Monday, February 4th, 2013

Chattanooga gang task force ready to put plan in motion

Boyd Patterson, coordinator of the City of Chattanooga Gang Task Force, answers questions after a presentation from the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies regarding the center's comprehensive gang report.
Boyd Patterson, coordinator of the City of Chattanooga Gang Task Force, answers questions after a presentation from the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies regarding the center's comprehensive gang report.
Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

ANTI-GANG GOALS

Develop and expand programs that strengthen the family structure.

Recruit 100 black male mentors for youths.

Add 100 positions for youths in Girls Inc. and the Boys and Girls Club.

Set up intervention teams to reach gang members.

Obtain formal commitments from 10 faith-based organizations to establish at least one outreach program.

Develop job training programs for gang members and ex-offenders and obtain a formal commitment from at least five local businesses to pitch in.

Increase literacy levels.

Source: "Planning for Implementation: Problem Statements"

Chattanooga's gang task force recently completed a draft plan to address growing gang problems by outlining ideas for programs involving schools, nonprofits, churches, local businesses and police.

The 16-page draft plan is based on community needs identified in a 173-page assessment released in September.

"This is a beginning. This is where we are deciding to start. This is where the assessment has indicated we need the most focus, and that's what the steering committee through its feedback also identified," said Boyd Patterson, gang task force coordinator.

If everything goes as scheduled, implementation could begin within three months, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention gang model.

Among the ideas offered are adding more spots to already existing programs such as Girls Inc.

Bea Lurie, president and CEO of Girls Inc. who attended a committee meeting discussing the plan last week, said many of the most at-risk youths have multiple issues that will require help from a variety of sources.

"The girls become close to staff. We learn about these things," Lurie said. "We don't know about them being gang members, but it's very tough on them with the pressures they face at home and at school with their peers. ... I think we're on the right track. It's going to take a long time to address these issues. It's not going to happen overnight."

Adding more girls ages 6 to 18 means added staff -- one staffer for every 12 girls, she said. It's unclear how the extra positions will be funded.

Patterson said funding needs will be addressed as the draft is finalized.

Finding businesses that want to step up and give ex-offenders a chance also has been challenging, Patterson said.

"That's been something where employers are naturally reluctant when it comes to who they hire," Patterson said. "However, I believe there are certain incentives for them to hire people with records."

He said people with criminal records have a hard time finding a job.

"They are usually so grateful for that particular opportunity, they will be the best employee," he said.

The plan also calls for initiating a youth jobs program in the school district with the aid of the business leaders and the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

Rob Bradham, vice president of public strategies for the Chamber, has attended task force meetings. He said Friday he had not read the latest draft and could not comment.

"I think everyone understands that it is their problem," Patterson said, noting that the task force will have to sign off on the final plan. "We really are at a crossroads right now."

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