Cleveland Crime Reduction Effort Continues After Federal Grant Runs Out

Thursday, June 12, 2014 - by David Davis

The Cleveland Community Crime Reduction Project Committee continues its metamorphosis from a federally funded grant to a partnership of non-profit organizations, churches, Impact Cleveland, Bradley County Juvenile Court and the city of Cleveland.

The three-year pilot program funded by the Department of Justice focused on reducing crime in south and east Cleveland ended June 30, 2013. The purpose of the $800,000 Tennessee Targeted Community Crime Reduction Grant was to reduce crime related to the use of alcohol and drugs, and to break the familial cycle of incarceration and recidivism in an area roughly half the size of the city.

In the past year, the partnership changed its focus to the smaller area around the Blythe Avenue Resource Center and Blythe-Bower Elementary School. Cleveland Community Crime Reduction is now more about working alongside existing organizations by offering support and public safety services available from the city.

“All personnel and staff at the city of Cleveland want to be a part of this and we want to help because that is how we make a difference: One community at a time,” City Manager Janice Casteel said. “If we can adopt Blythe Avenue and then adopt another one after we get Blythe Avenue going — it’s like the song, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” — you have to keep that one going and then pick up another one. That is what our goal is: to make a difference in Cleveland. You just love them to change them.”

All Nations Church of God pastor Michael Whitmire told of the church’s two-year effort to minister in the neighborhoods around Lay Street. He said that in order to make an impact in the community, “We have to start with the youth.”

The ministry began by painting the interior of the Reba M. Powers Unit of the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland located at 1204 Lay St. The congregation has also started a visitation ministry. The next steps are having cookouts and offering drama classes to youths.

 “We think youths are vital to us and our community. Crime-wise, we don’t have a lot. Nobody really bothers us. We’re trying to help the community grow spiritually,” he said. “They are not going to come to us. We’ve got to go get them.”

 Cleveland Impact, an organization founded specifically to raise the quality of life in the Blythe Area neighborhood is located in the Blythe Family Support Center at 1075 Blythe Ave. S.E. There is a community meeting on the first Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m.

 Joe Mullins, director of Bradley Initiative for Church and Community Transitions Program said the most pivotal time in children’s lives is between 10 and 14 years of age. He explained the Strengthening Families Program in which they work with the entire family unit for an hour a week for seven-weeks. The families learn communications skills, conflict resolution, dealing with negative peer pressure and creating positive peer pressure.

 “We teach parents how to hear adverse information and not flip out so that they shut down communications,” he said.

 Juvenile Court Director Terry Gallaher grew up in the neighborhood and attended Blythe Avenue Elementary School. He said, “Unless we can somehow get to the families and do some family building, we’re really not going to affect long term what’s going on. We’re looking for quality, effective, efficient programs and people interested in impacting those kids’ lives.”

 He said Westmore Church of God is restarting its One-Eighty youth program in the clubhouse at the former Rolling Hills Golf Course at the end of July. They are currently seeking bus pick up and drop off locations. Children will have opportunities to learn auto mechanics, creative writing, therapeutic painting, basketball and a skateboarding.

 “Kids can be court-ordered to participate,” he said.

 Mr. Gallaher said Youth Services Officer Nancy Stanfield’s passion is dealing with gang members. Fellowship of Christian Athletes Regional Director Robert Green, who is leading the revival of One-Eighty, has agreed to work with Gallaher and Stanfield to develop the right kinds of programs.

 “We’re going to develop a gang initiative. If we can identify the kids and they get in the court system, we can get a court order stating they have to participate. When they do come into Bradley County and they enter into the legal system, we don’t want to just discard them, incarcerate them and put them in prison,” Mr. Gallaher said. “We need to figure out a way to impact their lives, reach out to them and find something that’s going to impact their lives.”

 He said District Attorney General-elect Steve Crump wants to develop the database that contains information on gang members. The database was made possible by funding from the crime reduction grant.

 “He wants to pull together a regional gang initiative rooted in this database and pull all of the law enforcement in Southeast Tennessee together and start working like we’re doing here by sharing information and building a regional database,” Mr. Gallaher said. “Nobody else has a gang database in Southeast Tennessee.”

Juvenile Court Judge Daniel Swafford said, “The idea that it (the organization) would continue beyond the grant is phenomenal. We want to be a juvenile department that reaches out to people to establish partnerships.”

 The judge said he has met some territorial obstacles, “But we’re not going to make this a better community by everybody entrenching — sometimes we find it and sometimes we don’t.”

 He said almost every juvenile in the court system is there because he or she does not have a stable, mature, Christian adult influence in his or her life.

 “If we all focus on making this a better community, we’ll have very few problems,” he said.

 Police officer Bobby Ruth reported that the inaugural Neighborhood Watch meeting is scheduled at 7 p.m. on June 17 in the Blythe Family Support Center and National Night Out at the Boys and Girls Club is still in the planning stage.

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