VOL. 126 | NO. 170 | Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Officials Increase Crime Prevention Programs
By Bill Dries
Just as statistics have driven the Blue CRUSH anti-crime strategy, U.S. Justice Department officials in Memphis this week said they are confident other statistics can point to strategies that will prevent crime.
Memphis is one of six cities across the country that is part of a Justice Department youth violence prevention initiative.
The Washington officials wrapped up their two-day visit to the city Tuesday, Aug. 30, after several stops including a tour of the school that is part of Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court’s detention center.
The center has seen a 70 percent drop in transports for detention compared to a year ago as a result of new policies. Of 6,240 children taken to Juvenile Court last year, only 535 were detained at the center.
The Washington officials found a city whose approach to crime is evolving after an aggressive statistics driven attack on crime hot spots has brought down the city’s overall crime rate substantially in the last six years.
Operation Safe Community, the coalition plan that has been behind the strategy for the last four years is about to become Operation Safe Community 2, said Bill Gibbons, state commissioner of safety and homeland security and former Shelby County District Attorney General who remains head of the OSC effort.
“There are a lot of parts of Operation Safe Community that are still on the drawing board and have not been accomplished yet,” Gibbons said, specifically mentioning the federally funded “Safeways” program used to combat crime in apartment complexes in the ZIP code with the highest crime rate in the city.
“I’m fairly confident … we’ll want to expand the Safeways model and do many more apartment complexes,” Gibbons said as he also talked of expanding the mentoring program run by the District Attorney General’s office that is now in eight middle schools.
“A lot of what you see in the first plan is probably going to be in the second plan as well but there will be new things as well.”
The anti-gang strategy already plotted by OSC leaders and reviewed by Justice Department leaders this week is the first of several parts of a new plan.
Thomas Abt, chief of staff of the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, said the Obama administration is behind the move toward prevention.
“There is really an emphasis of being smart on crime, not just tough on crime,” Abt said. “With that, increasingly the department is encouraging across the country approaches like the one you see here in Memphis – approaches that are comprehensive and recognize that we can’t just arrest our way out of the problem. We need cops at the table, but we need teachers at the table. We need parents at the table. We need business and philanthropy at the table and we need our public health providers at the table. This is an extraordinarily complicated problem.”
Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong said he and Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham are close to an agreement to reconstitute a new metro gang unit that would include federal agencies and prosecutors and investigators with the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office as well as the Memphis City Schools system security staff.
Armstrong also promises an adapted COACT unit plan that works out of substations in neighborhoods more in line with new community policing principles. One of the drawbacks of COACT units, which were deemphasized during the tenure of police director Larry Godwin, was that the officers in the units were not available for calls from police dispatchers. That was a critical factor during the time because the MPD was not at its full complement.