WREG takes a look at plan aimed to reduce violent crime in Memphis

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. —Memphis is home and there's a lot to like about it. But at times, it can be violent and dangerous. That reality not only makes us uneasy and occasionally fearful - but it could jeopardize our future.

The FBI says Memphis is the fourth most violent city in the country. Yet, the city is recording some crime fighting progress.

"Murders are down over 17 percent, reported robberies are down over 12 percent and rapes are down over 18 percent. When you look at all of the reported gun crimes, whether it's robberies, aggravated assaults or whatever, it's down over 17 percent. And domestic violence incidents are down over 11 percent," an investigator said.

"All of that is very encouraging. But my guess is the average citizen doesn't sense or feel it yet. And we're going to have to drive crime down a lot more for people to really begin to sense it and feel it," Bill Gibbons, CEO and President of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, said.

The headlines confirm it.

Crime is falling. But for many, it's imperceptible.

"The numbers are good so far this year. On the other hand, we're not yet where we need to be," Gibbons said.

Two years ago, Memphis made a concerted effort to attack the problem with an ambitious multi-agency crime fighting plan called Operation Safe Community.

It's a plan that the district attorney acknowledges other cities have used with great success.

"What we've done is taken some of the things that work from the Boston model, taken some of the things that worked in Madison, Wisconsin and then put our own spin and our own twist to it if you will, D.A. Amy Weirich said.

To get a better understanding of the plan we traveled north, more than a thousand miles away, to the city of Boston. Back in the 1990's gang violence was prolific there.

Gangs controlled the neighborhoods, chaos ruled the day and blood flowed freely down the streets.

This city, much like Memphis, was at a crossroad. They would either be consumed by anarchy or chart a course to freedom.

And that's when Boston Police came up with Operation Ceasefire.

Back then, Police Commissioner William Gross and one of his top deputy's were in Boston's gang unit.

"For instance, from 1990 to 1994 40 to 60 teenagers were being killed every year in the streets of Boston," Gross said.

Like Memphis, Boston realized something had to be done or they'd lose the city.

So beyond patrolling the streets, they did something that hand't been done before. They partnered with business clergy and social services to lay a new foundation for the future.

"We know we're not going to arrest our way out of this situation. We're trying to create opportunities where kids can buy houses, where they can have health insurance for their children, they can own cars, they can own houses," Boston Police Deputy Superintendent Gerard Bailey said.

Three years after hitting a peek of 152 homicides, murders dropped like an anchor in Boston Harbor.

It eventually reached a modern day low of 31.

For Boston gang members, the plan was something they could buy into.

'Big D' is a former gang member who believes the program saved his life and then changed his life.

"Half my life I spent on the other side. And the rest of my life I'm gonna spend on this side. I'm a tax paying citizen now and raising my kids," he said.

"In Boston it was so successful that they called it the 'Boston Miracle," D. A. Weirich said.

But with more than 150 murdered in Memphis so far in 2018, it's recognized as a work in progress.

"There's no doubt about it. We do have more work to do. It takes a lot of different efforts," she said. Like going straight to the source. They brought in 11 offenders who were on probation and parole.

Law enforcement laid down the law, then laid out a plan for jobs, education and counseling.

It was a carrot and stick approach. Authorities were hoping criminals would take the carrot and avoid the stick.

Sheriff Floyd Bonner was at the first call in.

"I think we are implementing the plan correctly," he said. "They've got to have hope. And I think what the focus deterrent showed them is that there's an organization out there to help."

"But I do think we can be encouraged by the progress we're making so far," Gibbons said. "You know we're known as a gritty city, and it's going to take some grit to get where we need to be."

The Crime Commission and those implementing 'Operation Safe Community' will tell you they are keeping the promise. They point to the statistical fact that violent crime is dropping.

But they also says they know we're watching and they'll continue to evaluate the plan.

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