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OPINION: Kelly says his gun violence plan is 'nothing new'; will money, consistency make the difference?

Chattanooga Times Free Press - 7/29/2022

Jul. 30—We'd love for Chattanooga residents to be jumping up and down with excitement over Mayor Tim Kelly's new "roadmap" for "Ending Gun Violence in Chattanooga."

We wish we could be confident that it would do just that.

Unfortunately, we worry it's just more of the same: Give police more tools to fight crime, partner with other agencies and organizations, offer activities for youth and social services for families, and expand education on guns.

Kelly, himself, in announcing the program, acknowledged he hadn't reinvented the wheel, that his predecessors had taken similar actions.

"There's really nothing new under the sun in this work," he said. "I think it's a question of resourcing it properly and not losing sight."

Kelly said the difference may be in treating gun violence as a public health crisis.

"It is an epidemic ... and you have to treat it that way," he said, "and that's the approach we're taking."

A glance at newspaper archives offers examples of how similar the items on Kelly's "roadmap" are to those in the immediately previous two-term Andy Berke and Ron Littlefield administrations.

— Kelly administration: Chattanooga Police Department focused deterrence initiative; new technology resources to prevent crimes and identify suspects; expanded crisis response unit. Berke: Ceasefire program targeting gang members; $1 million for more cameras; gun crime unit; real-time crime intelligence center; funding inclusion in the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network; doubled number of officers working on gang/gun violence. Littlefield: Anti-gang coordinators, assistant district attorney and retired minister hired.

— Kelly administration: Mentorship and empowerment initiatives for young people; capacity-building resources for effective youth programming; wraparound services to support parents and families of at-risk youth; increased access to mental health services; career pathway and skill development programs for youth and adults. Berke: Coordinated "efforts to provide opportunities for at-risk youth"; Citizens Safety Coalition to encourage safe activities for young people and open neighborhood discussions about violence and persuading violent offenders to stop; meeting with Moms Demand Action spurs need for more mentoring programs, family engagement, more funding for collaborative programs among government entities, access to mental health services. Littlefield: Talks held with religious leaders, schools and city recreation programs about offering safe places for city youth "to keep good kids from going bad and entice bad back to the good side"; city-county summer work program funded; Office of Faith-Based Initiatives created to, among other things, facilitate programs in neighborhoods and churches; Neighborhood Partners funded to focus on, among other things, safety.

— Kelly administration: Deepened coordination with state and federal partners; intensive violence intervention initiatives. Berke: Violence Reduction Initiative; High Point Initiative targeting drug dealers; special prosecutor for gang members. Littlefield: Federally endorsed Comprehensive Gang Model employed; participated in federal Weed and Seed programs.

The above list is not the entirety of programs offered by this or previous mayors but is meant to be an example of how the names of chief executives change but the good-faith efforts at reducing or ending gun violence remain similar. And yet the largely youth-perpetrated gun crime continues.

We think the late Chattanooga Police Chief Freeman Cooper was on to something in 2010 when he lamented that parenting in the homes of many the young perpetrators of gun crime could be better.

"I don't think programs are the answer," he said. "The kids are going right back into the same environment at home. A lot of times when we arrest young people and we have to find their parents, we'll find their mom or dad at a nightclub."

Very little in Kelly's "roadmap" targets strengthening families, which is where we believe the key to gun violence, especially among the young, is. Wraparound services to support parents and families and increasing affordable housing will help, but they don't make up for a stable family.

Statistics show being raised in a married family reduces a child's probability of living in poverty by about 82%; adolescents in intact families have higher levels of academic achievement and are less likely to exhibit problem behaviors in school; family intactness increases high school and college graduation rates, as well as high employment rates; and children living with both biological parents are 20% to 35% more physically healthy than children from other homes.

We're not naive that fingers can be snapped and two-parent homes suddenly created, but we believe strongly that's where more programming dollars should go.

In the meantime, we'll be cheerleaders that Kelly's "roadmap" finds success where efforts of his predecessors didn't. He certainly has a windfall of federal money to play out the string longer, so maybe his statement about "resourcing it properly and not losing sight" will move the needle.


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