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Fight against youth violence gets 2nd front
by David Chanen, Minneapolis Star Tribune
January 7, 2008 Minneapolis police have had success with an innovative strategy to reduce juvenile violence. A new plan to be described today hopes to build on that success with new ideas such as mentoring programs and street outreach.
Minneapolis’ campaign against youth violence is about to hit a higher gear.
While police are finding success with their innovative strategy to reduce juvenile violence, a diverse committee is rolling out a plan to prevent the cycle from repeating.
Today, Mayor R.T. Rybak will unveil the group’s 34 recommendations to the City Council. They range from developing more mentoring programs to conducting "bold door-to-door" street outreach. Some of the ideas could have an immediate impact, such as the creation of a hot line to give young people a confidential way to report trouble or seek help.
The plan was built on months of painful testimony before the committee. The group heard from kids candidly discussing their disappointment with adults who let them down. Parents told stories of their murdered children. Youth service providers in the hardest-hit neighborhoods fretted over shoestring budgets.
Karen Kelley-Ariwoola, one of the committee’s three co-chairs, said she often "took it home with me, thinking of the heaviness of the task at hand."
No funding has been attached to any of the recommendations, but the committee has 100 days after full council approval to come up with a detailed implementation plan.
A coordinator will be hired to keep the initiative on track.
’Community has the desire’
Rybak, who is one of three co-chairs of the committee, said these goals bring together the words, fears and hopes he has heard from people at shooting scenes, funerals, schools and neighborhood meetings. There is already a tremendous amount of prevention efforts in the community, but he said this plan will bring it all together and identify improvements.
"It’s a monumental effort, but the community has the desire to stop the horrific violence affecting children," Rybak said. "When you see children killing children, you have to take dramatic and sweeping action."
The blueprint targets those ages 8 to 17 who face factors that place them at higher risk to commit a crime or be a victim. They include people brought to the juvenile center for curfew or truancy violations, gang members or those in an unstable family situation.
The recommendations suggest private businesses provide more jobs, parents receive training opportunities to prevent their children from engaging in violence and restorative justice programs be expanded. They also say a standard protocol should be developed for use in parks, schools and health-care facilities that deal in the aftermath of critical incidents to educate young people on ways to prevent and deescalate violent incidents.
Kelley-Ariwoola, who is a vice president with the Minneapolis Foundation, said it was refreshing to talk to kids and hear the "unedited" versions of the problems they faced. They said they needed the community to step in to protect them and say that it was OK to snitch.
Kids need more to do
Program workers in some of the areas suffering the worst juvenile crime repeatedly expressed the need for better coordination with other programs and a stronger safety net for kids, she said.
"Youth were consistently saying they don’t have enough to do," Kelley-Ariwoola said. "I know what they are talking about. I have a 12-year-old, and I don’t know what to do with him."
The blueprint, when implemented, will piggyback on the Police Department’s work to reduce juvenile crime that started two years ago. Robberies and aggravated assaults by juveniles were a major contributor to the rise in violent crime in 2006.
That year, Police Chief Tim Dolan started a juvenile unit that focused on going after kids with warrants. A new curfew and truancy center that will offer social services opens next week. Juvenile crime dropped 20 percent in 2007.
Beyond law enforcement, Kelley-Ariwoola said, the city needs everybody to contribute to prevent juvenile crime. She is excited about the recommendation to develop a public education campaign to stop violence, and her foundation has expertise in creating them.
"We need businesses, the faith community, foundations, schools, the grandma on the corner," she said. "Everybody has a role in turning this thing around. I believe in it."