"I think it's the best plan we've ever had," said Bill Gibbons, a former Shelby County commissioner, Memphis city councilman, and Shelby County district attorney who helped shape the previous two 5-year efforts to make Memphis a safer and more livable community.
Gibbons told Rotarians of the new strategic plan covering for 2017-2021.
"There were 500 people involved in creating the plan. It is very a focused plan. It focuses on reducing violent crime and getting citizens involved in this effort," Gibbons said. "It can't be law enforcement and prosecutors alone. So a major emphasis in this plan is to recruit citizen involvement."
The Operation Safe Community plan has five major goals:
- Strengthening community engagement in crime prevention efforts
- Strengthening law enforcement’s ability to reduce violent street crime
- Strengthening intervention programs for ex-offenders
- Enhancing domestic violence prevention and intervention efforts
- Enhancing interventions for juveniles committing delinquent acts
"All you have to do is turn on the news any night and all you'll see is a story about crime," said Gibbons. "If you take any poll, any survey in Memphis, crime is the number one concern among citizens. We are very, very consistent on that. So, we have a perception of crime in our community. We do have a crime rate, in particular, a violent crime rate that is too high."
The long-time Memphis attorney and civic leader listed many of the successes the Operation Safe Community efforts have produced since its origins. But, Gibbons noted that all of the plan's successes and failures will be evaluated carefully by University of Memphis' Public Safety Institute, where Gibbons also serves as chairman.
"All of this will undergo deep evaluation," he said. "We have certain areas and neighborhoods in our community where the crime rate is unacceptable. We deserve a safe environment. We must not reach a point where we are surrendering any part of the community to high crime."
During the luncheon, Gibbons estimated there are 10,000 gang members residing in Memphis. He said gangs have decentralized and there's not as much structure among gangs in the city as in years past, so settling on a precise number of gang members is a challenge.
In consultation with Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich, who introduced her former boss at the luncheon, Gibbons said that crime fighters have settled on the 10,000 figure based on members admitting gang affiliation as they're booked into Shelby County Jail.
Rival gang members who do not want to be housed in the same cell reveal their gang membership in order to avoid that from happening.
As gangs use social media, "they're going at each other constantly, so there's no cooling off period," Gibbons said.
Gibbons invited Rotarians to help advance the mission of Operation Safe Community by becoming ambassadors, advocating for the program and making charitable donations to the cause.
"We need your help to move this plan forward," he concluded.