published Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Chattanooga crime initiative has promising start

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    The city is giving these cards to people targeted in the anti-violence plan. The phone number will connect them to resources such as job counseling and GED completion help.

Four out of 25 men connected to violence now have jobs just one month after Chattanooga city leaders, police and community members said the violence has to end.

They told the men the violence must stop and that help, if they wanted it, was at their fingertips.

It turns out many of the men have reached out.

As many as 15 have phoned Richard Bennett, director of A Better Tomorrow, to check in after a recent call-in meeting with offenders. Ten have filled out paperwork with Bennett's nonprofit organization that helps with life skills and links people with services, as needed.

Another 35 people outside of the call-in meeting were given the message from their peers and have reached out, Bennett said.

"Right now, [it's] still early. We haven't got that deep in," he said. "The show-and-tell time will be three to four months down the road."

It's too early to say the city's Violence Reduction Initiative is a success, but early indicators are encouraging.

"I am so pleasantly surprised by the number of people who have called in and asked for some kind of assistance," Mayor Andy Berke said. "We're just doing the best we can to make sure we're providing the support we need and tracking them to make sure we give them the maximum chance for success."

Since March 16, only three of the city's shootings have been gang, or group, related out of 11, police said. The other shootings were isolated incidents, according to officials.

Shootings are down compared to the same time last year, officials said. There have been 34 shootings so far this year compared to 40 during the same time period in 2013, records show.

Paul Smith, the city's public safety coordinator, said he defines success by people feeling safe when they go out.

"What is most important to me ... is if we get young black men to stop shooting and killing young black men. That's the bottom line for me," Smith said.

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.

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