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Cincinnati plans two new programs to reduce youth gun violence

gun barrel

Cincinnati officials are looking for community partners on violence prevention initiatives. The programs are the result of a city task force that's been meeting weekly to discuss youth violence since last July, after a mass shooting at Smale Riverfront Park involving several young people.

The city will choose a nonprofit to develop and implement a mental health advocate training program. Assistant City Manager Sheryl Long says they want volunteers who are already interacting with young people.

"A lot of these coaches, barbers — all these people that are working in the community — we would love to arm them with the tools to make sure they're being effective with their communication," Long said.

Another program would offer mini grants to neighborhood organizations doing violence prevention work. Both initiatives will be focused on neighborhoods with high levels of gun violence, like Over-the-Rhine, Avondale, Westwood and Bond Hill.

The city put out a request for proposals (RFP) for each project; nonprofits can apply before the deadline on Friday, Feb. 11 at noon.

The projects will be paid for with $350,000 from the fiscal year 2022 carryover budget.

What the group suggests

The task force is a sub-committee of the Manager's Advisory Group, often shortened to "MAG." Then-Mayor John Cranley asked the MAG to take on the issue of youth violence and report back with recommendations.

The MAG has about two dozen total members, but a smaller "planning committee" has taken on the issue of youth violence. The eight members are:

  • Iris Roley, co-founder Cincinnati Black United Front
  • Rickell Howard Smith, executive director of the Center for Social Justice
  • Ltc. Teresa Theetge, Cincinnati Police Department
  • Ltc. Lisa Davis, CPD
  • Paul Booth, Cincinnati Office of Human Relations
  • Kelly Carr, Office of the City Manager
  • Virginia Tallent, Office of the City Manager
  • Sheryl Long, assistant city manager

Long said the weekly meetings often lasted three or more hours, and it was common for participants to get emotional.

The group has five primary suggestions:

  • Supporting and expanding programs in schools that are trauma informed, deepen Social Emotional Learning and provide therapeutic support (basis for RFP No. 1)
  • Address access to guns and gun safety by exploring legal barriers and having deeper conversations around disrupting access to guns.
  • Ensure basic needs are met — food, housing and employment. Reestablish Citizens Committee on Youth (CCY) or similar entity.
  • Invest in a youth council so voices can be represented in the community and heard in safe, neutral spaces.
  • Explore a program that trains volunteers in beauty shops and barber shops on mental wellness issues and how to community with the youth in those spaces (basis for RFP No. 2)

A small group of officials are working on the possibility of reviving CCY, including Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney.
"It was around for almost 60 years, and really helped our youth a lot," Kearney said. "Right now we're talking to the schools about having representatives in the school. So we should have an update on that soon."

The MAG committee met with dozens of experts and community leaders to learn about existing violence prevention efforts.

"All of these groups are doing work in the same space, but they're not talking to each other," Long said. "And I think that was the most frustrating [thing]."

Some steps have been taken already

Last week, Cincinnati Council passed a resolution declaring gun violence a public health crisis.

Last year, council passed a motion from Greg Landsman re-establishing a Safe and Clean Fund, intended to award grants for community-led projects like improved lighting, better signage and security cameras. The fund has $500,000 but hasn't been disbursed yet.

"Keep Cincinnati Beautiful is in the midst of their bi-annual Safe and Clean Grant process and expect to make the next round of awards in March," said a city spokesperson in a statement. "The city is working internally and with partners to determine the best and quickest manner in which to disperse the additional Safe and Clean funds. We expect this to be worked out soon, at which time the details about the availability of these grant offerings will be released for anyone interested in applying."

Landsman's plan also called for SARA training to be made available to neighborhood groups. SARA is a problem-solving model; it stands for Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment.

Landsman's proposal also calls for an update to the Cincinnati Police Department's PIVOT "micro-locations" data. A June 2017 report found crime hotspots that make up just 1.4% of the city's landmass, but account for 42.6% of shootings involving a victim. Landsman wants newer data that would be shared publicly.

In a statement, a city spokesperson said the PIVOT data is not configured as a useful public facing dashboard: "CPD is working with their IT staff to examine options for how to best address the Council motion."

Learn more about the MAG's work and recommendations below:

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.