Safe Neighborhood Initiative expected to start by new year

STEUBENVILLE – The Ohio assistant attorney general overseeing the Safe Neighborhood Initiative in Steubenville said Monday night the program will start by late December or early January.

“We will start with a ‘call-in’ where we will contact violent offenders on parole or probation and ask them to come to a meeting. We will tell them we are giving them a chance through social service agencies to get out of the life of violence. And, we will tell them there will be consequences if they are or their associates continue the violence. There will be a price to pay,” Bob Fiatal told approximately 35 members of the Hilltop Community Development Corp.

“I believe there is a spirit in this community to do this. The people who have the most powerful message are the clergy. We already have two clergy members who will talk to the people attending the call-in. The second most powerful group is the families of the shooting victims. We also show photos of gunshot victims and describe what happens when you are shot. We will tell the people on parole or probation that if they pull the trigger or someone in their gang pulls the trigger they will be the target of law enforcement,” explained Fiatal.

“These meetings will last approximately one hour and 15 minutes. Only the people invited will be allowed to attend. They can’t bring their entourage with them. Common Pleas Judge David Henderson has graciously offered his courtroom for our meetings,” stated Fiatal.

“After the first call-in meeting we will have to sustain and reinforce our message. I anticipate we will do a call-in two or three times a year. And, it will make a difference. We started this program in Akron in May and since it started there have only been two shootings there. The violent gun offenders are not only inflicting violence, they are also the targets of violence,” he said.

“We will give each person at the call-in meeting a card with a phone number on it. The phone will be answered by social services counselors who can offer help and suggest an agency for more help,” Fiatal said.

“Law enforcement has a pretty good idea of the out-of-town people who are bringing violent people into this town. We have a good chance of stopping the violence,” Fiatal noted.

Hilltop CDC President Laura Sirilla said a number of residents “are willing to help and work with law enforcement to stop the violence.”

“There is a lot of frustration because we see things and we want to help solve the problems. But we don’t see immediate results,” Sirilla said.

“The police can send officers to observe but they do not see probable cause for an arrest. We are trying a different approach with this program. We are not going to eliminate all drugs from your streets. But our program will give your law enforcement the resources to address quality of life issues like drug dealing,” remarked Fiatal.

“We are going to bring the best practices from similar programs in Boston and Cincinnati and other cities. During most of my life as a FBI agent I tried to put people in prison. And, I don’t know how much of a difference I made. What I am trying to do is to reduce gun violence and not put people in prison. Most violent acts are actually committed by a small element in your community. That small element is usually known by law enforcement officials. We want to deliver a message from law enforcement and the community that we are not going to stand for the violence any longer,” declared Fiatal.

Fiatal said the call-ins will continue with additional violent groups as they are identified.

“Law enforcement and prosecutors must also be prepared to conduct a coordinated effort targeting the groups responsible for any post ‘call-in’ gun related violence,” Fiatal stressed.

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, 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.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 today 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 during a roundtable discussion last month.

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