By Joe Gorman
Police said Thursday they were able to cut down on the number of gang-related homicides and gang-related shootings in 2013 when they ran their Violence Interruption Patrols.
At a press conference Thursday to officially announce the return of the program for 2014, Capt. Jason Simon said the city recorded seven homicides from May 1 to Sept. 1 last year, as compared with nine during the same period in 2012, when the program took place.
However, in 2013, just three of those homicides were gang-related, and in 2012, eight were gang-related, Simon said.
One of the goals of the program, which has been around in various forms since 2003, has been to flood neighborhoods with extra officers, especially where trouble has been known to occur or expected to occur.
But also cutting down on gang violence and especially retaliation when there is a shooting or other incident among gang members is another goal of the program. Police Chief Robin Lees said information officers receive on the street about gang activity can be forwarded to the members of the patrols, who can then show themselves in certain neighborhoods to stop gang violence.
Helping out city police will be the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the Adult Parole Authority and U.S. Marshals. The office of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio also will help out because some people arrested by the patrols may be eligible to have their cases charged in federal court, where sentences are generally stricter. Also, the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s office will be looking into drug and gang offenses that will not be prosecuted in federal court. The Martin P. Joyce Juvenile Justice Center also will take part.
Lees said the cooperation from the other agencies is necessary.
“The city police department could not field this effort on its own,” Lees said.
Sheriff Jerry Greene said this is the second year deputies have taken part in the effort and said they are looking forward to it.
“We hope we can make a difference this summer,” Greene said.
In 2013, there were more than 80 extra patrols when the program was run by marked and unmarked units alike, and they managed to get 62 guns off the street, an increase from 54 in 2012, Simon said. Last year saw an increase in the number of visits by parole agents and curfew and truancy sweeps. Simon said that trend is expected to continue this year.
Guy Burney, head of the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, or CIRV, said he hopes the sweeps can help deter young people from being out and getting into trouble. He said CIRV also is working on programs to help give them things to do this summer.
Lees said CIRV deserves a lot of credit for the downturn in crime in the city over the past couple of years. He said one of the goals of the VIP program is not just to arrest people, but also to refer people to CIRV to help them get out of a lifestyle of crime.
The patrols kicked off a modified version in early April after a pair of homicides on the South Side. Early March 29, Dajhon Neely, 20, of Liberty was shot as he was riding in a car on South Avenue, and he died April 1 at St. Elizabeth Health Center. Early April 1, Maurise Kerns, 24, was found shot to death on the front porch of a vacant 573 Idora Ave. home.
Three people have been arrested in Kerns’ slaying. There have been no arrests in Neely’s death. These are the only homicides in the city so far this year.
The city had 20 homicides in 2013. At this time last year, there were four homicides.