City Stands By its VRI Numbers
The goal is to offer gang members a choice—help with jobs and education, or hard time in federal prison.
The program has come under criticism this week.
Now, an update on the effectiveness of the VRI so far.
The Chattanooga mayor’s office is responding to a published report in the Times Free Press that questions the effectiveness of the anti-gang program.
Specifically, the question is: how many young people are still enrolled in programs that lead to jobs and more education. The report lists 42 out of 76 who started.
DR. PAUL SMITH, PUBLIC SAFETY DIRECTOR "When you have 42 people who were considered by many in society as unemployable..who are employed and they’re still working, that’s awesome."
The VRI, as you may know, is an ambitious effort copied after successful programs in High Point North Carolina and Boston, Massachusetts.
It involves a dozen organizations and charitable groups, including the McKenzie Foundation which has contributed 50-thousand dollars. McKenzie Executive Director Johnny Smith says his contribution is not being used.
DR. PAUL SMITH "We didn’t need to touch that money right away. And we wanted to make sure we were being judicious with the money..and not just spending it frivolously."
That fund was aimed at rehabilitating parolees.
On city council, Moses Freeman says support for VRI is still strong.
COUNCILMAN MOSES FREEMAN, CHAIR OF PUBLIC SAFETY COMMITTEE "I think the data that’s going around that I’ve saw published in the paper the other day..is all inaccurate..I think they’ve misread the information they have on hand."
End of the year stats show that shootings were indeed down, but homicides, mostly involving gang members were up. Smith says there’s room for improvement.
DR. PAUL SMITH "According to the data we have 18% reduction in shootings in the first nine months of VRI, that’s not enough."
Smith says he wants to see the number become zero.
The Scenic City closed out 2014 with 112 shootings, while the number of homicides increased from 17 to 27.