Hilltop group to hear about Safe Neighborhood Initiative

STEUBENVILLE – Ohio Assistant Attorney General Robert Fiatal will discuss the Safe Neighborhood Initiative Monday night in the Trinity Medical Center East physicians’ conference room.

The event has been organized by the Hilltop Community Development Corp.

Hilltop CDC President Laura Sirilla said the 7 p.m. meeting is open to the entire community, “because this will take a citywide effort. We need to come together to discuss how we can work together to make our community a safe and vibrant city.

“I am urging residents from throughout the city to join us. Visitors should enter through the former emergency room entrance. We will have signs on the walls directing people to the conference room for the 20-minute presentation about the Safe Neighborhood Initiative and how it can work in our community. He will be answering questions after his presentation,” added Sirilla.

“The attorney general’s office contacted us because we have a group of concerned residents living in the hilltop neighborhoods who want to make a difference. We are encouraged the attorney general’s office wants to get us involved in this program, and I hope the entire city wants to get involved as well,” said Sirilla.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced plans for a Safe Neighborhood Initiative program to curb violent crimes in Steubenville during a roundtable discussion last month.

“We are talking about bringing this new program to Steubenville. The program is in the works in other Ohio communities and has been effective in curbing gun violence,” DeWine said at a 90-minute public meeting with local law enforcement officials, elected representatives and community leaders.

“The program allows the local law enforcement officials to identify people who are on probation or parole and have a history of gun violence. We bring them in and tell them we will be watching you. This model was started in other large cities. And the program will be in cooperation with the city police department, the county sheriff, the prosecutor’s office, community leaders and churches. Our office can offer more resources to the local community,” explained DeWine.

“It is very important for the entire community to be involved. It will take the community to get angry and take back their city. I asked the local law enforcement officers what we can do to help. We will continue to talk and continue the discussions. We have the Safe Neighborhood Initiative in Akron and we are starting to see a decrease in violent gun crimes,” cited DeWine.

According to the attorney general’s website, the Safe Neighborhoods Initiative is a group violence reduction strategy targeting those most likely to commit future acts of gun-related violence. Borrowing the best practices from similar programs in Boston, Massachusetts, Cincinnati, Ohio, and other cities, it is based on common sense and practical experience.

“The initiative essentially brings together three groups which cumulatively bring a message of deterrence to the targeted offenders. These components consist of law enforcement, social services and members of the community. The first component is a law enforcement team consisting of the police, their local and federal counterparts such as FBI, DEA and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, state and federal parole and county probation and the county Prosecutor and U.S. Attorney. Collectively they determine those most likely to commit gang-related acts of violence through the accumulation and analysis of criminal and social networking intelligence. These targeted offenders are then confronted by members of the law enforcement team and representatives of the social service and community outreach teams at a “call-in” to be held in a local courtroom,” according to the website.

The attorney general’s office began a pilot of the Safe Neighborhoods program in Akron in collaboration with local law enforcement, community and church leaders, social service providers and victims’ families.

DeWine has said the city’s high-crime groups or gangs are identified, and the most violent is targeted first.

“The most violent offenders and gang leaders who are on parole or probation are ordered to appear for a ‘call-in’ where the individuals are told law enforcement will be watching them, If they commit another gun-related violent crime, law enforcement comes out in full force on the entire gang,” DeWine explained during his September meeting in Steubenville.

“The call-ins are an efficient and effective method of communicating the strategy’s key message back to the entire universe of violent groups in the neighborhood,” DeWine said. “As these groups come to understand that violence by one may lead to law enforcement attention to all, the peer pressure that drives violence is reduced.”

“Three elements of the strategy address much of what drives violence on the streets. First, it conveys that the community wants to see the violence end, values the offenders and wants them to succeed. Second, it offers help to offenders who want it. And finally, it spells out specific consequences for homicides and shootings. This is more than an enforcement-based action. It’s proactive work,” Fiatal said. “We want to stop crime before it happens. The mindset in law enforcement has been to lock them up. And until a couple years ago, that’s where I was, too. But it doesn’t work in the communities we have now,” stated Fiatal.

As part of Safe Neighborhoods, the Attorney General’s Office has designated $7 million for grants to fund community efforts that offer alternatives to violence. The grants will fund social service and community programs.

“Some of the concepts of the group violence reduction strategy have been tried in Ohio cities previously. What the Attorney General’s Office can bring to the table are resources and continuity that can help sustain these efforts over the long haul,” Fiatal said.

(Gossett can be contacted at dgossett@heraldstaronline.com)