Toledo police Chief Derrick Diggs says gang violence is not a police problem, it's a community problem. 'The No. 1 thing is the violence will stop.'
There cannot be a summer like the last -- violent and deadly -- officials plan to announce this week, alongside a new crime-reduction strategy.
"There's a new way that we will deal with gang violence in this community and it's going to be continuous," police Chief Derrick Diggs said of the Toledo Community Initiative to Reduce Violence. "The No. 1 thing is the violence will stop."
The program, which aims to reduce gun-related crimes, is to be announced during a news conference Tuesday.
Although the program has been in the works since 2008, it was shelved in 2009 when the department laid off 75 officers. The surge in violence last year -- shootings soared 73 percent -- makes now the right time to move forward, officials said.
The plan is part of Chief Diggs' overall strategy to move the department forward and to protect the community despite historically low staffing levels, he said.
Since becoming chief in October, he has announced the creation of a crime analysis unit and has increased emphasis on data-driven policing. That, coupled with the 150 surveillance cameras approved by city council in March, is part of his "bold and ambitious" plan.
Marquise Noble, left, Victor Watson, Jr., Keith Furr, and Antwan Goetz deny that they belong to a gang. Watson was convicted of a felony drug charge several years ago. Now, he says, he wants to get a job and stay out of trouble.
The program -- TCIRV -- is modeled after the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence, which was put into place in 2007 after a year with 90 recorded homicides. Since the program's debut, homicides in Cincinnati have decreased: 68 were reported in 2007, 75 in 2008, 55 in 2009, and 68 in 2012, according to statistics from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report.
The program in Cincinnati has received multiple policing awards and has become a model for agencies across the country and abroad.
Toledo's program, which requires no funding other than a grant for analysis to be done by the University of Toledo, has four teams: law enforcement, services, systems, and community.
The first step, officials say, involves a meeting with parolees and probationers who are known gang members. At the meeting, a zero-tolerance policy will be explained, adding that law enforcement and the community will come down hard on individuals who commit crimes.
If a shooting or homicide occurs, for example, the person identified as the gunman will be arrested and authorities will increase their focus on gang members from the same set as the suspect, making arrests on warrants or other charges. "The shooter will be charged as a shooter, but there is other criminal behavior going on in that particular gang set," said Toledo police Sgt. Anita Madison, who has worked for years on developing Toledo's program.
"We don't intend to go out and make up charges on individuals that are a part of the gang, nor are we able to charge them with a shooting simply because they're associated with a shooter, so there are other offenses that they're going to be charged with because that's the kind of activity they're involved with."
Not far from where his cousin Marquise Chandler, a known gang member, was shot and killed in 2010, Calvin White, 21, seemed to dismiss the idea, saying that the people who carry guns illegally aren't likely to stop. "These young [people] are crazy," he said. "They don't follow … rules."
John Jones, president and chief executive officer of the Urban League, noted during a meeting on Tuesday that in 2008, 2 percent of the city's population committed 70 percent of the violent crime.
Toledo police have, in a gang database, a list of 2,500 individuals known to be involved in gang activity and about 25 active gangs, said Toledo police Capt. Brad Weis.
The city defines "gang" as "three or more people committing criminal acts in concert under the name of a group with a set of signs, symbols, and identifiers."
Chief Diggs said the program is not intended to dissolve gangs but to try to change their means for conflict resolution.
"We're not trying to tell them to stop being gang bangers; we're trying to get them to stop the shootings," the chief said. "Stop the shootings, and we'll have other alternatives for you to lead a positive life. We will set you on other endeavors."
Mr. Jones, a "co-owner" of the community team -- labeling leaders as a co-owner establishes responsibility and accountability -- said the program will offer offenders and gang members a new lifeline, with education, job training, and perhaps at some point, employment.
"The first step is understanding where they are in the process because without question, a job is critical," Mr. Jones said. "You think, in the overall scheme of things, 'If I don't have a GED or a high school diploma, I can't get a job.' We really have to understand where they are in this process."
Some in the targeted population -- although how many is unclear -- have some sort of criminal background, which could make employment more difficult. There are programs and businesses within the city, however, that do seek to employ ex-offenders.
Victor Watson, Jr., 20, said he was convicted of a felony drug charge several years ago. He did his time and now, he said, he wants to get a job and stay out of trouble.
"It's so hard," Watson said. "You fill out all the applications and it's like, 'I hope they call, I hope they call,' and they see you have a drug record -- and that [selling marijuana] was my job. Now I'm trying to do better."
He and his friends Keith Furr, 19, and Antwan Goetz, 20 -- who said they are not in a gang -- said they would love help from the community to improve their lives.
"We want to be better," Watson said, adding that he would take any job, even if it didn't pay very well. "Help us get jobs, help us do the right thing."
Crucial for the initiative to succeed, officials said, is community involvement.
"Gang violence is not a police problem; it's a community problem," Chief Diggs said.
"They've got to, when they know things aren't going the way they should be, they have to stand with the police department and let these fellas know that this is not going to be tolerated in the community," Chief Diggs said. "They can't sit back and say, 'Hey, you know, he's not involved in the gang, he just got caught up in it.' They can't be letting these kids out here carrying these guns."
Sergeant Madison shared the chief's message, saying, "It's not a TPD thing. We are a community and we are fed up with the violence and we want it to stop and we're not going to tolerate it."
Other communities with similar programs reported significant drops in violent gang-related crime -- ranging from 30 to 70 percent -- after implementation.
Sergeant Madison said those in charge here "were pretty modest" in setting a 5 percent reduction goal. "It's for the purpose of our evaluation," the sergeant said. "We expect far more than that, though."
The program, as it is structured now, is designed for adults. Eventually, Sergeant Madison said, a juvenile strategy could be put into place. Until then, officials hope the added pressure will help deter young people from joining gangs and picking up guns.
"You have the choice here," Chief Diggs said. "We are a community, we're concerned about you, we're concerned about your future, but first you have to lay the guns down. You have to choose not to get involved in violence."
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6054 or on Twitter @tdungjen_Blade.
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