Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield’s Gang Task Force is appealing to members of the business community in North Hamilton County to help curb gang issues expanding into the suburbs from the inner city.
“We want all of our residents of Hamilton County to know no community is exempt from the activity of gangs,” said Gang Task Force Outreach Coordinator Fred Houser. “We’re all operating in a heightened awareness in our community, and we do know you [areas of North Hamilton County] have some challenges.”
A steering committee composed of 30-35 community leaders guides the Task Force’s work, he said. Community gang assessments are being conducted to answer questions such as: What is the problem? Where do problems occur most often? What is the level of activity? Who is involved and what are the ages of those involved?
“All that data is being gathered for the first time in the history of this city,” said Houser. “We want to know from the public, ‘Does Chattanooga have a gang problem, what is it and how is it defined?’”
Some of the initiatives the Task Force plans to implement to tackle the gang problem before it escalates further involve literacy and job training programs as well as re-entry strategies for young juvenile offenders.
“We recognize this problem is no longer an inner-city problem; it’s a community problem,” said Houser.
He said the Task Force will be reaching out to recreation centers, faith-based groups and the school system to connect with at-risk youth throughout the North Hamilton County area.
“We’re building a pipeline of support and services so they can become successful all the way through college,” said Houser. “We’re looking at bringing vocational schools back and including technology opportunities.”
Present at the meeting was Sequoyah High School principal J. Todd Jackson, who said to his knowledge no gang issues have occurred at his school, although he acknowledged that some students experience problems with gangs in their communities. He said Houser has expressed interest in implementing some of the programs discussed with the at-risk population at Sequoyah.
“We will explore it and see if there’s any way we’ll be able to assist them in some of their work,” said Jackson.
North Hamilton Chamber Council president Richard Foster recently helped collect tie-dyed items for the programs directed at youth, such as the literacy and Stars of Chattanooga music programs. Tie-dye is used because the multitude of colors is not associated with a particular gang, he said.
Gang signs popping up in North Hamilton
At the July 26 Soddy-Daisy City Commission meeting, resident Frank Skiles complained of gang signs he said he had noticed around the city.
“I sat back and watched the city of Chattanooga do nothing for so many years; it’s going to end up bad,” he said. “It may only be two locations, but I’ve found if you give someone an inch they take a mile.”
He said children may be responsible for the signs, but feels the Police Department should have its detectives investigate the issue.
Soddy-Daisy Police Chief Phil Hamrick said the city has always had gang sign graffitti, and the signs pointed out by Skiles are not the only ones.
Mayor Jim Adams said the city is in the process of developing a plan to combat the problem.