Chattanooga tries different approach with gangs

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) -- With the number of gang-related homicides increasing in Chattanooga, city officials have decided to take a different approach to the violence.

Local officials say they plan to refocus efforts on implementing a community plan to combat gangs, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The Hamilton County District Attorney's Office asked Chattanooga and Hamilton County to work together to implement the plan, which takes a holistic approach to the problem.

The plan involves using social services, nonprofits, municipalities, schools and law enforcement in a combined effort to suppress gang activity, rather than relying only on police to solve the problem.

A committee formed in the spring to hire a project director to coordinate efforts between the groups and make reports.

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said he has already interviewed candidates for the director's position.

"We don't want someone who is going to have to go through a steep learning curve. We want someone who is knowledgable about gangs," Littlefield said. "And quite frankly, I have a lot of people who walk in and who have this magic solution. You listen to it, and it's not a magic solution. It's a very complex problem. It's going to require a lot of systemic changes."

Recent shootings in the city prompted county commissioners to discuss a resolution asking for state and federal help to form a task force to curtail violence.

The request came just after the city had its 23rd homicide victim this year. VanDaryl Rivers, 22, was killed last month when a man in black opened fire with an assault rifle. Four others were wounded.

"The family unit has been destroyed in so many areas of our society," said County Commissioner Mitch McClures, who sits on a panel to implement the plan. "I think the gangs, in one sense, are seen as family replacement for many of these folks. This is not just a city problem. It's a county problem. ... This is something that will radiate to all of Hamilton County if we don't get a handle on it."

Littlefield said he thinks the city has enough resources to handle the gang problem until the plan is implemented.

"We're not without resources right now," Littlefield said. "We just don't have a director. We have a group that's working together right now. We have police personnel who are already assigned to the gangs and we have the knowledgeable people in the district attorney's office. So all we really don't have is a point person, a go-to point person on this issue."

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