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VOL. 131 | NO. 216 | Friday, October 28, 2016

Crime Commission Leaders Talk About Focused Five-Year Plan

Daily News staff

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The new Operation: Safe Community five-year anti-crime plan should be released in November and it will likely be a more focused set of goals and objectives. That’s what we heard as The Daily News Editorial Board talked with Memphis-Shelby Crime Commission president Bill Gibbons and crime commission vice president for Social Engagement Harold Collins.

Bill Gibbons, left, and Harold Collins discuss the Memphis-Shelby Crime Commission's five-year plan.

Gibbons and Collins are new to their current roles with the crime commission. But both have been involved with the effort over the years. Gibbons is the former Shelby County District Attorney General and state Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security. Collins is a former Memphis City Council member who worked for the DA’s office as head of the office’s outreach programs.

This is an edited transcript. A shorter version appears in The Memphis News that hits stands Friday, Oct. 28.

The Daily News: Obviously every plan evolves. But tell us how you got to this third five-year plan.

Gibbons: We set these criteria primarily upon reflecting about the five-year plan that is just winding down. It’s got 62 separate strategies. It was so broad that we did not really have the focus we needed. We are trying to bring more focus to this new plan. It will not have 62 strategies. It will be much more focused. Every strategy or objective under the plan has got to be requested by or supported by the relevant owner. For example, any objective or strategy dealing with enforcement actions by the police department or the sheriff’s office will have to be requested by or supported by the police director or the sheriff. … It’s got to have a near-term impact on violent crime. By near term, I don’t mean one month or one year, but within the five years of the plan so that we can really measure the impact.

Every strategy or objective in this plan has got to have some connection to or involvement with the criminal justice system, either directly or indirectly. That rules out a number of things. For example, I would be one of the first to say it would be very helpful to have more summer jobs for youth. But it’s not part of this plan because there’s no connection with or involvement with the criminal justice system.

It’s got to be evidence-based or at least evidence informed. … We’re not just kind of pulling things out of thin air. Every objective or strategy in this plan will need to be subject to an independent evaluation. That’s where the new Public Safety Institute at University of Memphis comes into play. It will be really spearheading the in-depth evaluation aspect of the plan. When I say evaluation, there are two aspects of that ongoing evaluation to determine how each objective is being carried out as we move forward and then an evaluation at the end.

TDN: Where do pilot programs stand with this?

Gibbons: I don’t think I am tipping my hand too much on this. The Safeway program is part of the existing Operation: Safe Community plan and is really geared toward crime prevention in major apartment communities, those with 100 or more units. … When you look at the crime data from those communities participating in Safeways, it is very encouraging. That is an example of a program we would want to expand to cover many more of our apartment communities based on its track record.

TDN: The discussion on this can be incredibly broad.

Collins: We run into that at every meeting. Residents ask us what about education or what about pre-K and all of these other things. We have to pull them back in and say this plan will be the result of a focus on the criminal justice system. We do agree that summer jobs and pre-K are important, but there are other nonprofit organizations within our community that can do that. And we will partner with them. But it will not be a part of our plan. ...

We have a nucleus of people who already engage in their communities through neighborhood watch … who meet on a regular basis to talk about blight in their community, problem-people in their community, and other things that they may need that directly affect them and their area. What we’re going to do is to use those organizations to catapult what we think will be a better engagement in getting them involved. We believe that this particular part of the plan is critical. … Both of us recognize that neighborhood watch and community engagement is going to be central to our success.

TDN: We have a police shooting like the Darrius Stewart incident and public sentiment goes one way and we have a local police officer who is shot and it goes the other way. These incidents keep on happening, sometimes at the same time. Do you see a pendulum effect in the public reaction as you build your plan?

Gibbons: I wouldn’t quite put it that way. I think what we do see is a lot of support for a very balanced approach. By balanced I mean prevention steps, intervention steps and enforcement and prosecution steps. … We want to prevent crime by reducing the number of individuals in our community who would be inclined to move in that direction. We want to intervene so that those individuals who have moved in that direction can maybe be turned around and maybe still become productive citizens. And we’ve got to be prepared to enforce our laws and prosecute those individuals who break them and hold them accountable. It’s all three of those buckets. I think it’s safe to say that in this new plan you are going to see strategies and objectives in all three of those areas.

TDN: Do you think there is a group of citizens who are harder to reach on those specific points and that direction?

Collins: No. What I believe is there are people who want – and I want to use the terms I hear – fairness and equity in the distribution or carrying out of justice. I don’t think these people are hard to reach. I just think that they for whatever reason, because of the pendulum swing, see it differently. I think we all want the same thing. A part of our plan will have some of those things in place.

There were people who mentioned to us about some of the disparities, but they also recognized that police officers are human. They are not perfect. But they work hard. … I don’t believe there will be people hard to reach. There will be people, like the media, that look for specific things they want to see and if they don’t see it they will raise questions. If they do see it they are going to put their finger on it.

TDN: How much of this is educating people on why police procedures are what they are and how much of it is changing them?

Gibbons: When we look at this plan we are talking about fairly high-level strategies or objectives, not really specific procedures that the police department or sheriff’s department may or may not use. That is kind of micro-managing and we’re not into that. We are looking at broader strategies that the key stakeholders support.

Collins: With this document, you will see strengthening the neighborhood or community engagement is a priority. There are other priorities like reducing violent street crime. We know that utilizing the resources that we have, that is the kind of focus we are going to have – reducing the number of juveniles who come into contact with the criminal justice system. And then looking for proven strategies across the country or even locally that help get that result we want.

It is the ag(gravated) assaults and robberies that drive our crime rate. Many people think that because we have an enormous amount of homicides in our city that drives our crime rate. But realistically, when (District Attorney) General (Amy) Weirich deals with 8,000 brand new domestic violence cases a year, that’s driving our rate up.

When we deal with the number of robberies that occur in our community on a daily basis or a yearly basis, that’s the number we need to focus on getting down. And then repeat offenders. That is the social side of the equation with the plan.

We recognize that if we don’t get our arms around this it’s just a revolving door. People are going to find ways to take care of themselves and their families and if we as a community don’t find the reasonable ways, the safe ways – what we call the respectable ways – to take care of their families through this process then we’re not going to be successful. That means providing transitional jobs for individuals who are being released back into our communities. That means helping with mental health and educational opportunities that they can get back on their feet.

Gibbons: If you go to the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Reentry on Mississippi Boulevard and ask them today what’s the No. 1 request returning inmates to this community have when they walk in the door, they will tell you it’s the need for a job. If that need can’t be addressed, their likelihood of being repeat offenders goes up – that’s just the reality of it.

TDN: In 2011, the crime commission started breaking out domestic violence statistics, recognizing that it is a crime where there is probably a gap between what is reported, and a larger number of incidents that includes domestic violence where the police are not called. Are these crimes that are harder to measure?

Collins: With the establishment of the Family Safety Center we’ve sort of narrowed that gap. Our challenge is getting more and more people to know that it’s available to them and what it is. … The Family Safety Center helps get people more aware of the resources that they have available for victims and perpetrators. That facility houses counselors, (assistant) DAs, police and sheriff’s deputies that can help provide temporary orders of protection and all of those things. … When families don’t know where to go, they get the runaround at 201 Poplar.

Gibbons: I do think that domestic violence incidents are more apt to be reported than 15 years ago. … While the stats are not perfect in terms of the number of incidents, I think it’s more of an accurate picture than it was 15 or 20 years ago.

TDN: There was a lot of attention when the crime commission hired Raymond Kelly (former police commissioner of New York City). What has commissioner Kelly’s role been in this?

Gibbons: As a consultant. During his tenure, New York City had a dramatic decline in its crime rate, so obviously they were doing some things right. … He’s not the only person we are consulting. There’s an individual with the American Prosecutors Association who was here for two days meeting with us on issues that may wind up in the plan. Mr. Kelly has been here numerous times. He has had meetings with the Memphis police command staff. Those meetings have been between Mr. Kelly and his colleagues in the MPD. We have not been involved in those meetings. He has briefed us on a number of occasions on his thoughts so far. I think once the plan is announced, there will be a number of things in that plan that reflect his thoughts on how we should approach some of the challenges we face. And it will reflect the thoughts of others as well.

What we have found out is a fair amount of consensus on approaches that need to be taken – not totally. But when we talk about the need to engage the community, there’s pretty much a consensus on that. When we talk about the need to focus on reducing violent street crime in particular, a lot of which is gang-related or drug-trafficking related, there’s a general consensus that we’ve got to have that focus. And again, consensus of reducing the number of repeat offenders, the need to focus on domestic violence because it accounts for roughly half of all of the reported crimes against persons in our community, and obviously the need to focus on juvenile delinquency as a part of all of this.

TDN: You’ve been involved in “blended sentencing” proposals for juveniles. Where is that?

Gibbons: We’ve been talking about it for about 15 years. The devil is in the details. About 35 states have some form of blended sentencing, but none of the 35 are the same. (Juvenile Court) Judge (Dan) Michael has been looking at this. I really can’t tell you if it’s going to be part of this new plan or not. Those are ongoing discussions and Judge Michael is a prime stakeholder. … My interest in it has been my belief that there are situations in which we need kind of a third way. A 17-year-old commits a series of robberies. Right now, there are only two alternatives – either seek transfer of that 17-year-old to the adult system – which means we are pretty much giving up on him – or keep him in the juvenile system knowing that there is no way to have any supervision of him past age 18. It appears to me that maybe we need a third alternative. And again, the devil is in the details.

What Judge Michael is talking about is extending jurisdiction in the juvenile system past age 18, which would involve the (Tennessee) Department of Children’s Services. You are talking about some facility where juveniles could be kept past age 18 and supervised. It would be under the juvenile court jurisdiction. It’s also, under certain circumstances, extending the ability for juvenile court to have some (offenders) on probation beyond age 18.

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