Area police leaders say a local initiative to stop violent crimes is seeing positive results.
Since the Catawba County Gang Initiative began last month, none of the participants involved in the program have re-offended.
“I consider it a great success because our ultimate goal is to have these folks not re-offend,” said Newton Police Chief Don Brown. “If we don’t hear from them again, and they don’t re-offend, then it’s a success.”
The initiative, comprised of area police and local citizens, takes violent offenders from the community and offers them a second chance, said Catawba County Gang Initiative Coordinator Charles Mackey.
“It’s really unique and really fair, but it’s not soft at the same time,” Mackey said. “We give them the resources that can help them get out of their situation.”
The initiative’s success is rooted in what Mackey terms “call-ins,” an intervention-like activity where offenders are brought before police, local citizens and their family members.
The initiative held its first call-in last month, summoning 17 local and violent offenders to one location in the county. Out of the 17 summoned, 15 appeared. Attending the call-in is part of each offender’s parole, so the two offenders who did not appear violated parole, Mackey said.
“Once we bring them into the call-in, we tell them they are identified,” Mackey said. “We want them to take this as their warning.
We are not going to tolerate the violence, but we do see them as being a productive part of the community. We also tell them that this message is for them to take back to their group.”
Mackey said law enforcement “all the way up to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency” attends the call-ins.
Claremont Police Chief Gerald Tolbert said all the police chiefs in the county attended the call-in.
“We talked to all of them and explained to them that if they did something wrong, we would be coming down hard on them,” Tolbert said.
“I think they understood that we meant business.”
Despite area law enforcement’s heavy involvement, Mackey said the community’s voice is usually much stronger.
“The important part of this is that we have the community involved,” Mackey said. “We have people from the community speaking. We have a person who has maybe lost a child through group activity. It kind of shocks them that you have a true unity between the community and the police. We try to get their significant others, like their grandparents or family, too.”
After the call-ins, the initiative provides opportunities such as anger management therapy, job skill training and counseling to the targeted offenders. Out of 15 offenders at the first call-in, eight made contact with the initiative for the additional resources.
Now, only one of the targeted offenders is “taking heed” of the resources, Mackey said.
“He’s actually at a point in the mentoring where we are taking him to schools,” Mackey said. “We are helping him with references in regards to getting a job.”
Tolbert said he wishes more of the offenders would take advantage of the initiative’s resources, but still thinks the program is a success.
“ If we save one, it’s worth it,” Tolbert said. “If we don’t have any reoffend, then it’s well worth it. We would have liked to have a few more of them take advantage of what we offered, but so far, the one’s that we have talked to have done pretty good.”
Conover Police Chief Steve Brewer said the initiative gives offenders a way out.
“They can’t use the excuse of not having any means to get out of it,” Brewer said. “It’s a process that they’ll have to go though, and it takes commitment from them.”
Getting the community involved
The gang initiative is not the only group hoping to quell crime numbers in the county. Mackey said several community deterrent groups are also starting up to help give violent offenders alternative resources.
Catawba County Citizens Against Violence will be an organization solely for citizens to work with violent offenders in the community. This will not be a law enforcement-driven, but rather a program that will be “handed off to the community” eventually, Mackey said. Despite the program’s community focus, the group will still be monitored by law enforcement, Brewer said.
Mackey said the initiative is also starting an ages 16-25 mentoring basketball program.
“It’s about having a platform that we can speak to them through what they enjoy—basketball,” Mackey said.
Mackey said the basketball program is in its “final stages.”
The gang initiative, community group and basketball program are all modeled after deterrent strategy started in High Point.
“We picked it because of its success,” Mackey said. “To be proactive, they have had a 40-plus percent sustained decrease in violence, and it just flat out works. Because of its success, it’s gone from a program to a strategy.”
Mackey said with guidance from High Point’s program and continued involvement from the community, gang activity in Catawba County can be deterred.
“We have gangs, no doubt about it,” Mackey said. “But the good thing is when you’re proactive against it and don’t let them get organized…and you can have some control.”