MEMPHIS, Tenn. — WREG Investigators have been digging deeper into kids and crime, and we are taking a closer look at programs trying to intervene and stop violence among our youth and young adults.
Gun violence is a problem happening across the country. Memphis is no exception.
Memphis Shelby Crime Commission reports that in the first half of the year, major violent crime was up, and many of those incidents involved juveniles. Elected officials and non-profits are trying to stop it.
“One shooting typically leads to four more shootings,” Carl Davis said. “I was surrounded by it my entire life.”
Davis grew up in the Raleigh Frayser area. He lost a close friend when he was 15.
“My mom comes into basketball practice and pulls me to the side. During that time, one of my best friends on the basketball team came and scooped me up off the floor,” Davis said.
That friend who consoled him was shot and killed two years ago in an interstate shooting.
“So I just have been surrounded by it, and you know I want to do my part to make a difference and see if we can decrease this in the city,” Davis said.
Davis is now the Director of Operations for Memphis Allies launched by the nonprofit Youth Villages in 2021.
“It’s a community violence intervention program specifically targeted to decrease gun violence,” he said.
Research shows a small number of people, sometimes acting in groups, are behind most of the gun violence. Davis says through their SWITCH program, they look for at-risk youth and young adults and try to intervene.
“What we are looking for are guys who have been shot or shot at in the last 12-18 months, who have had a friend or family member actually shot in the last 12-18 months,” he said.
They may have a criminal history of gun charges or could be on probation or parole. Davis said their team reaches out and builds trust. Then they offer life coaching and connect them to resources and services like housing, job training, and counseling.
“Our plan is to expand to over seven regions. We will need 400 staff to do the successful intervention work we want to do,” he said. “Our goal is to reduce the homicide rate by 30 percent.”
Davis said they have funded the program through private donations to create stability instead of relying on elected officials who can come and go.
“Before the pandemic, we were slightly reducing crime. We are moving in the right direction,” Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said.
However, Strickland said the pandemic unleashed a negative reaction. Since then, gun violence reached record levels. Murders and shootings are up this year.
In 2021, his administration launched a violence intervention program and partnered with community stakeholders like 901 BLOC Squad, hospitals, and schools to head off retaliatory violence.
The program reports of the people they’ve worked with, only 6 percent have re-offended.
Compare that to the 47 percent recidivism rate statewide.
In August, they announced they’re working to expand, especially in schools. They are also partnering with the Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy. His team will now refer defendants.
“We have identified cases that are appropriate and started referring them with approval of the court,” he said at a recent news conference.
The crime commission credits the city’s program so far stating while major violent crime increased in the first half of the year, the “pace of increase is slowing.”
Strickland said more staff expands their reach.
“We need hundreds of people out there. The 901 BLOC Squad would ideally have 200-300 on the street,” Strickland said.
But it’s a matter of cost. Right now, the city uses $2.4 million from COVID relief funding and $2 million from the city’s general fund. Not to mention, it will be up to the next mayor and council to continue or increase that funding.
What’s certain, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris pushed to secure $1 million to fund a non-profit doing violence intervention work.
“This is the business all of us need to be in at this point,” he said.
Others agree. After the pandemic, Chicago put $50 million towards violence prevention initiatives, $10 of that to street outreach.
New York City is devoting $86 million in its new budget to fund similar work, and Detroit allocated $10 million for community violence intervention.
“We need to invest in this a whole lot more. I’m glad we got something done in the budget process,” Harris said.
He vowed to continue to push for more and ask for more money for core services like public transportation. He wants to build the urban core which sees a majority of the gun violence.
“There’s not sufficient and adequate transit for you to commute to places where there’s economic opportunity. You can’t afford to live in the places with the best jobs and the best schools. Because of that vortex, this cycle repeats time and time again,” he said.
Researchers state intervention programs shouldn’t be underfunded. It’s daunting work that needs dedicated staff.
Davis agrees the more investment, collaboration, and attention, the greater the reward. He hopes to significantly reduce gun violence in three to five years.
“For the past year we have been boots on the ground, and we’ve had some small successes,” Davis said. “Because Memphis is a beast of its own, I believe we are doing the right work and are identifying the right people. It’s going to take some time, but I definitely think it’s going to work.”
What to find out more about Memphis Allies?
Memphis Allies will create a comprehensive network of support services to work with more than 2,000 youth and adults at the highest risk of committing or being victims of, gun violence. This includes an expansion of intensive services for high-risk youth involved with the Memphis and Shelby County Juvenile Court.
To find out more: click here