Memphis tackles juvenile crime

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Violent acts of anger are being committed not by hardened long-time crooks, but often underage, out-of-control teens.

Like the violence, Memphis' search for a solution to this youth crime didn't start yesterday.

In 2011, Operation Safe Community developed a Youth Violence Prevention Plan, a five-year approach to tackle the 54 percent of city crimes committed by people 24 and younger.

"We have now got to double our efforts to deal with the youth side of this," Ben Adams, chair of the Crime Commission said.

He said the city saw the problem coming and aimed to reduce youth crime by 25 percent.

"Over half of our strategies are geared toward youth," Adams said.

They created resources to help kids develop positive behaviors and instituted changes on handling juveniles in the justice system.

The City also started Memphis Gun Down. Program Director Bishop Mays said the focus had to be on youth. They hit the ground in South Memphis and Frayser, both areas with high youth crime, and began offering programs like Midnight Basketball and Summer Night Lights as safe places for kids to gather after hours. Their aim was  to reduce the robberies, aggravated assaults, non-domestic violence and homicides.

"In Frayser we have a 17.9 percent decrease in those crimes. In South Memphis focus area we have had a 50 percent decrease," Mays said.

He says the approach is working in the two communities they targeted, but the problem is more than Frayser and South Memphis because crime has no neighborhood boundaries.

So WREG wanted to know how is the Youth Crime Prevention Plan really going halfway into the five-year goal?

"Some well. Some not so well. So it wouldn't be an A and wouldn't be an F.  So it's probably a B- or a C+," Adams said.

He calls their approach effective. Violent crime is down and programs like 901 Bloc are helping some wayward youth turn their lives around.

"We try to touch families not just the youth. We call it the wrap around approach, We try to wrap our arms around the family unit to get them help too," Delvin Lane, supervisor of 901 Bloc, said.

He said the program works to get more youth connected with community resources.

"So we are trying to be the glue that connects all the resources together around the city to where youth can be served," Lane said.

Twenty-year-old Marcellos Anderson Junior is one of the success stories. His life started violently. When he was just an infant, his father, grandmother and another man were buried alive in a drug-related crime that rocked Memphis in the 1990s.

Tony Carruthers and James Montgomery were convicted of the brutal killings, which cast a dark cloud over Anderson's childhood and led him to fights, robberies, and assaults as a pre-teen.

"I was just real undisciplined. I was hard-headed and had an attitude problem. Anger was in me," Anderson said.

At the same time, 901 Bloc Squad and Delvin Lane were in Anderson's ear, constantly trying to steer him from the troubled streets. After several stints in juvenile and two years in jail, it finally sunk in.

"I love my life. I don't want to be remembered for nothing wrong. I do want to go to heaven. There is a hell," Anderson said.

Now Anderson is holding down a job, working toward a degree, and mentoring young people who are doing what he once did.

"They are undisciplined like I was undisciplined, young like I was young. We are just trying to tell them that we been through this. You know what I been through," Anderson said.

There are still plenty of young people to reach and getting to them may be the key to getting crime down in Memphis.

"There is no silver bullet here. We all have to keep working very, very hard," Adams said.

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