Mayor Andy Berke told members of the Hixson Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday that he continues to focus his time on four issues: public safety, education, stronger neighborhoods, and sounder government.
He said, "Our streets are just too dangerous." He told the audience there are no easy solutions to this problem, but that progress has been made; the rate of shootings has dropped 42 percent.
He said the Chattanooga Police Department has recently increased its number by 50 more officers. He also emphasized that police are not just responding to calls. Instead, he has encouraged officers to be more interactive in the community, talking to people and finding out where there is trouble.
This is all part of his Violence Reduction Initiative. This program targets groups of people behind violent crime rather than targeting a location. He said, "It's usually 15 to 20 people in a neighborhood that are engaging in the shooting."
When one person is involved in a shooting, police now focus in on who that person was associating with. Mayor Berke said the majority of shootings occurring in Chattanooga follow a "cycle of retaliation." He said, "One group shoots at another, so that group comes back."
Mayor Berke said his next big focus area is "smarter students." He said, "The best investment we can make in our city is through young people."
He said all of the Youth and Family Development Centers in the city now provide reading rooms in addition to free recreation. Anyone is free to go work on their reading skills at these locations. He said parents have taken advantage of this by bringing their children to read while they work out.
Currently, 459 children have gone through this reading initiative. He said, "That's how how cities get better."
He also discussed mentorship programs for students. He said, "Success in life is not just about academics, it's about character." He said he wants every student to have a chance to learn values such as persistence and determination, even if the child is not taught those things at home.
Mayor Berke said he wants to build stronger neighborhoods by growing small businesses and promoting entrepreneurship. He said, "We have to capitalize on what we have here in Chattanooga."
He continued, "I've never seen a greater moment for entrepreneurship and small businesses." He said people have trouble finding funding, so the city has been working on a program to help.
Called StartupCHA, the program allows people to apply to test their products with the city. He said it could be anything from new types of concrete to lighting, but if it works, the city of Chattanooga will be a validator for that particular business.
He also said he wanted to bring more quality jobs to the area. He said, "We have the fastest Internet in the Western Hemisphere. If you want to test tomorrow's technology today, the place to do that is Chattanooga."
Mayor Berke said his last main issue was creating "sounder government." He told the audience all of his programs had been created without a tax increase. He said, however, that he still welcomes feedback to continue improving on this.
He said, "People are really proud of Chattanooga. Outdoor Magazine called us 'the best town ever.'"
He ended, saying, "I really believe that we live in the best place in the world and it's only getting better."