After enduring a sweltering heat wave last week and with the hot dog days of August on the horizon, many in the Mahoning Valley continue to seek relief.
But in one critical barometer of quality of life, the city of Youngstown has found some long-awaited relief midway through this long hot summer of 2013. Violent crime, most noticeably homicides, has dropped precipitously through the first seven months of this year. It is a cooling trend we hope continues and one in which city police and a collection of other law-enforcement, community and faith-based agencies can rightly take pride and credit.
As of Sunday afternoon, Youngstown had recorded eight homicides in 2013. Compare that with the 18 recorded as of July 22 last year or more starkly to the yearlong total of 65 or more recorded in Youngstown not all that many years ago, and one can begin to sense the incredible progress that’s been achieved.
WHY THE DECLINE?
Many variables come into play for the dramatic reduction in homicides and other violent crimes in Youngstown. One of the most important factors is that the Youngstown Police Department, in concert with other agencies, has gotten a grip — or more specifically, a V-GRIP — on serious unlawful behavior.
V-GRIP, an acronym for the Violence Gun Reduction and Interdiction Program, has had a highly visible presence on the mean streets of the city in recent years. The program is run from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and combines patrols in known trouble spots with U.S. Marshals and state police agencies to crack down on guns and the people who carry them.
As U.S. Attorney David Toepfer emphasized on Vindy Talk Radio the other day, “V-GRIP highlights something that people in the Valley should not take for granted, which is the cooperation of state, local and federal law-enforcement officers.” He added that, unlike Youngstown and Warren, turf wars and other problems have hindered its success in other U.S. communities.
The program has resulted in the arrests of hundreds of thugs, gangbangers and hooligans, thereby reducing the available pool of criminals. It has removed hundreds of firearms – the weapon of choice of murderers and violent criminals – from the streets. Many cases have been prosecuted in federal courts, which typically bring longer prison terms and stiffer punishments.
Complementing the progress of the V-GRIP project has been the city’s Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, a partnership of law enforcement, social-service agencies, and the faith-based community designed to reduce gun violence in Youngstown by targeting at-risk potential gang recruits. They’re doing so throughout this summer with character-building programs that range from sports to drama lessons to carnivals and neighborhood camps.
CIRV serves the city well. As Guy Burney, CIRV coordinator, simply but aptly put it: “Kids who are idle get into trouble.”
DESPITE SUCCESS, CHALLENGES REMAIN
Despite the progress, more can and must be achieved. The average homicide rate in the United States is about five slayings per 100,000 people per year. With its population of about 65,000, Youngstown already is about 100 percent above that average halfway through the year.
What’s more, the stain of homicide plagues urban areas long after it has been cleaned. Fifty years after The Saturday Evening Post dubbed Youngstown “Murdertown USA,’’ the offensive moniker still sticks for some.
That perception also continues to impede progress. Businesses are reluctant to move into high-crime areas. Families are hesitant to purchase city property. Suburbanites resist opportunities to partake in vibrant city attractions.
Therefore, the need to press on remains urgent. Strong year-round V-GRIP and CIRV programs, responsible neighborhood crime watches and authoritative parenting all can play roles.
And while the city can take pride in the accomplishments in crime reduction over the past two decades and in the valuable partnerships created to fight it, there can be no stopping now. With continued vigilance, the homicide rate of the city can drop to record lows and the long-term forecast for community safety, population growth and economic viability in Youngstown will grow increasingly more sunny.