Crime has been dropping in Hillsborough County for years.
But the Newtown, Conn., mass shooting in December was a reminder that violence is all-too pervasive and can break out in even the most bucolic settings.
On Wednesday, Hillsborough County commissioners will discuss creating a multi-agency task force on violence prevention. The mayors of the county’s three cities have agreed to participate along with representatives of the city police forces, the county Sheriff’s Office, the school district, a judge and the county’s public defender.
“As we spoke with these leaders, it was very apparent that we have a problem with violence in our community and everybody agreed we need to comprehensively address violence,” said Commissioner Kevin Beckner. “The questions is, what type of violence and where?”
Beckner proposed the task force in January as a reaction to the Newtown tragedy. He said the group will look at the problem of violence from a public health perspective. In other words, the task force will focus on how to prevent it.
Similar strategies have proven effective in other cities and counties, including Minneapolis and Alameda County, Calif. Both communities saw significant drops in violent crime after tackling the problem head on with approaches such as intervention programs for troubled teens.
The Prevention Institute, a California nonprofit organization, helped Minneapolis and Alameda County shape their violence prevention programs. Beckner will ask his fellow commissioners to appropriate $150,000 to hire the institute to assist the county task force and to hire a facilitator to guide the task force’s research and deliberations.
Minneapolis created a “Blue Print for Action,” with four objectives:
Beckner said Minneapolis started its project when violent crime was at a historic high in 2006. Four years later, violent crime levels in the Minnesota city were below 2001 levels.
“What they identified was that a large part of the violence they experienced was juveniles involved in crime, and that’s what they focused on,” Beckner said.
Beckner has said the task force’s first job should be identifying the most common violent crimes and where they’re happening. He envisions eight task force subcommittees, including health care, public safety, education and faith community.
Hillsborough Public Defender Julianne Holt, who will serve on the task force’s leadership council, said many youngsters aren’t taught values at home as they once were. That means community institutions, such as church and schools, need to fill the gaps.
“You don’t learn how to control your anger unless someone talks to you about it … and then educates you,” Holt said. “If you just tell a person, “You can’t hit them,’ and that’s the end of the conversation, nothing happens.”
As with the Minneapolis blueprint, Holt said intervention should include older youths in trouble. Research has shown, Holt said, that the brain is still developing beyond the high school years.
“You have to start earlier and teach longer,” she said, “and it’s the basic lifestyle instincts that must taught.”
Other members of the task force leadership council said they were excited at the prospect of uniting different agencies and disciplines in developing a common strategy.
“If the thinking is we all work together through our different agencies; we’re sort of enforcing the same standards and sharing information with each other,” said Temple Terrace Mayor Frank Chillura. “I think it’s much more effective with that approach.”
Chad Chronister, a captain for the Sheriff’s Office, said he and Sheriff David Gee like Beckner’s emphasis on achieving data-driven, measurable results.
“We think that there could be a lot of benefits to not just putting bad guys in jail but instead approaching it from a multitude of angles,” Chronister said. “But the sheriff wants to see some measurable results – positive or negative – but he wants them to be measurable.”