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Mayor A C Wharton Launches Initiatives to Combat Youth Gun Violence

Part of a comprehensive plan to reduce youth gun crime by 10% citywide

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (May 31, 2012) – Today, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, Jr. announced the launch of the first three initiatives in a comprehensive plan to reduce youth gun violence by 10% citywide and 20% in selected areas of Frayser and South Memphis by September 2014.


In 2011, 904 young people between the ages of 13 and 24 were arrested for gun-related aggravated assault, aggravated robbery, or homicide in Memphis. Between 2008 and 2011, 400 young people under the age of 24 were shot and killed. While violent crime in Memphis has dropped more than 30% since 2006, the rate of youth gun violence remains high, particularly in some areas of Frayser and South Memphis.


Over the past several months, the newly formed Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team worked closely with Director Toney Armstrong and the Memphis Police Department, as well as other agency leaders, community members, area youth, and teachers to draw out root causes, pinpoint challenges and develop solutions to youth gun violence.  Key findings from this in-depth work informed Mayor Wharton’s comprehensive, evidence-based plan that identifies and holds accountable the small number of groups and individuals in the City who perpetrate gun violence; offers services to youth at risk or those who seek to change; provides new approaches to identifying conflicts and preventing them from escalating to violence; and shifts community perception away from a culture of acceptance toward one where gun violence is simply not tolerated.


“I am convinced that to be successful, we need to treat youth gun violence as a public health problem,” said Mayor Wharton.  “In addition to refining our enforcement strategies, we need to intervene early when our young people are at risk of violence, restore opportunity for young people who have gone down the wrong path, and involve the entire community in a public dialogue about changing the culture of violence.” 


"Today we launch three key initiatives from the plan":

·         The Mayor’s Summer Challenge will galvanize the attention of young people and encourage them to pledge their commitment to avoid guns.

·         The Retaliatory Violence Project will ensure that officers in South Memphis are equipped to spot conflicts and to respond proactively to prevent shootings.

·         The Youth Intervention Team will directly intervene in the lives of at-risk youth to reduce conflicts, respond to shootings when they occur, and support young people who are getting “on the right path.”


Additional initiatives from the plan to reduce youth gun violence will be launched in the summer and fall.


Mayor’s Summer Challenge

With historically increased rates of youth violence during the summer months, Mayor Wharton is issuing the Mayor’s Summer Challenge to get the community involved in addressing the issue.  The challenge is a call-to-action for Memphis youth, asking them to pledge to “Keep Cool This Summer.” The pledge, which can be signed online, asks youth to make several commitments: I will not carry a gun; I will not use a gun to settle an argument; I will try to keep my friends from carrying and using guns; and together we will stop gun violence this summer.


This initiative will be reinforced by integrated social media and web campaigns, celebrity endorsements, contests and support from club owners and promoters whose events and venues reach a large audience of young people. Youth can sign the pledge http://www.facebook.com/MayorsChallenge or follow the discussion on Twitter at @MayorsChallenge.

“We must engage our young people before they make a mistake they will spend a lifetime regretting,” said Mayor Wharton. “In my years as a public defender, I saw way too many young men and women fall prey to guns and violence, whether because of their circumstances, their neighborhood, or because they simply didn’t know any better.”


Retaliatory Violence Pilot

Responding in advance when conflicts emerge is critical to preventing escalation and future gun violence. Area young people are turning to guns in response to conflict, either in retaliation for an act of violence or in response to a real or perceived threat to their safety or self-esteem. The Memphis Police Department and George Mason University, through a Department of Justice grant, are partnering to implement cutting-edge training for Community Outreach Program (COP) Officers in South Memphis.

Participating COP Officers will be trained to identify conflicts, alert community members and isolate participants to prevent violence before it occurs. Known as the Retaliatory Violence Insight Project (RVIP), this training is intended to provide police officers with new techniques that they can use to understand and predict when a conflict has the potential to lead to an act of retaliation.  Memphis is one of only two cities nationwide that will participate in this pilot program. 

“Memphis Police Officers will be better equipped to gain insight into every day conflicts, look for those that could lead to retaliation, and then take appropriate action to intervene before a violent crime occurs,” said Director Armstrong. 

If this pilot is successful in South Memphis, the City will work to expand RVIP, equipping other police officers and community workers with these skills.  

Youth Intervention Team

Intervening early and offering services to young people at risk or who seek to change can dramatically reduce gun violence.  Teams of trained outreach and intervention specialists will be deployed in areas of Frayser and South Memphis. These teams will provide street-level intervention in response to shootings and also connect youth and their families with educational opportunities, employment training and assistance, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and other services that provide individuals with options besides a life of crime and violence. They will get to know the residents and the individuals that are at greatest risk of being involved in a shooting and will stay informed of everything that is going on within the community. This approach draws from best practices that have shown significant impact reducing shootings in several cities, including Boston, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Los Angeles.

“Our comprehensive, data-driven approach to reducing gun violence has been informed by best practices from across the country,” said Doug McGowen, Director of the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team. “This problem will not go away overnight, but we are committed to make meaningful change for our city.” 

About the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team 

Innovation Delivery Teams help mayors develop and deliver powerful solutions to major urban challenges. Memphis is one of five cities to receive an Innovation Delivery Team grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. Part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Project, Innovation Delivery Team grants were also awarded to Atlanta, Chicago, Louisville, and New Orleans. Through these investments, Bloomberg Philanthropies seeks to both support grantee cities to achieve impact as well as establish a model that can be used by mayors anywhere to develop and drive innovation over time. The Mayors Project spreads effective programs and strategies between cities. Other Mayors Project investments include Cities of Service and Financial Empowerment Centers.


Travelers, to learn more about youth gun violence or the work of the Innovation Delivery Team, visit www.innovatememphis.com.







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