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Saturday, Sep 20, 2014

A community attack on violence


We’ve seen enough crime prevention programs falter through the years to have a degree of skepticism about efforts to attack the root causes of violent crime.

Nevertheless, we commend Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner and other local leaders working together in the Violence Prevention Collaborative, which promises a comprehensive approach.

This week the group, formed about a year ago and chaired by Beckner, released a strategic plan to prevent violence by aiding families, repairing neighborhoods and ensuring children a safe haven.

Granted, if the collaborative’s “Safe and Sound” recommendations are not transformed into pragmatic actions, its efforts will represent little more than good intentions.

And it is important to maintain a continued emphasis on rigorous law enforcement, which has dramatically reduced local crime.

We saw what happened when a lax criminal justice system allowed vicious thugs to run amok in the 1990s.

Once the state began holding lawbreakers accountable, crime rates plummeted.

Still, Beckner is right when he says violent crime remains too common. In 2012 in Hillsborough County, there were 4,570 violent crimes, 7,036 domestic violence reports and 10,278 cases of child abuse.

And the commissioner correctly believes we cannot simply “arrest our way out of this problem.”

The collaborative should be able to mobilize a lot of resources, expertise and brain power.

It includes the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Hillsborough County government, including the County Commission, the mayors and police departments of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City, the State Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, the circuit court and the School Board.

Members of the group have the real-world experience needed to make the somewhat-sketchy proposals reality.

Among the diverse recommendations: support families in tough neighborhoods; increase economic stability by advocating for access to local employment; provide peer support for parents; enhance connections between communities and detention to help inmates transition to outside life and find jobs; and utilize time outside of school more productively.

As the collaborative pursues its goals, we hope it will capitalize on and expand the effective programs already in place.

Sheriff David Gee, for instance, points out that starting a Boys and Girls Club usually will immediately reduce after-school crime in a neighborhood. It gives kids who might otherwise be on the street a safe place to play and learn.

“Boys and Girls Clubs, Scouting, and such proven programs — there is no guesswork with them. They work,” Gee says.

Beckner estimates the effort will cost $1.8 million over five years, primarily for services to help at-risk families and children.

That seems a reasonable expense, though the jurisdictions should inventory existing family resources before starting any new programs. It also will be important to continually review and evaluate the anti-violence efforts as it progresses.

It’s a tall order to approach violent crime in such a thorough manner — trying to address everything from family life to business practices — and we imagine some goals will prove more realistic than others.

Yet if only partially successful, the collaborative’s actions should improve public safety and steer more at-risk individuals to rewarding lives.

Beckner and the Violence Prevention Collaborative deserve praise for their hard work and multifaceted strategy.

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