As the days get longer and warmer, the Savannah Police Department (SPD) and Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE) are focusing on several initiatives to address at-risk youth, combat gun violence and strengthen community engagement.
Launched earlier this year, the ONSE program primarily uses a public health and community support approach to reduce gun violence. On Thursday, Director John Bush provided an update to City Council while outlining what the office is doing as the summer months approach.
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“In the 150 days of operation of the NEB office, from the day I stepped foot on the ground on January 18 until today, we have embraced a culture shift where our first young voluntarily gave up a weapon,” Bush said. board during Thursday’s workshop.
“A minor child voluntarily gave up a weapon thanks to the meetings we had.”
This summer, the office is partnering with several organizations to connect with young people aged 6 to 21 through the following programs and training:
Verbal and visual intervention program: The program targets 10 affected systems, court-referred Savannah men ages 12-21 in four weeks of verbalization, visualization, mediation and reconciliation. The program deals with guns and gang violence and the impact on the lives and future of young people.
Saturday morning academy: The academy is a 16-week program engaging 100 Savannah children ages 6-12 in education and skill-building, mentor matches, and age-appropriate youth violence prevention activities.
Training in conflict mediation for young people: ONSE is partnering with the Mediation Center to provide young people with training in decision-making and conflict management starting in June 2022.
Youth Advocacy Program Violence Intervention Contract: this program uses a hybrid approach of violence reduction strategies, including the Cure Violence model, with an expected start in August.
Resilience Summer Camp: This five-day camp will engage 30-120 Savannah youth ages 12-18 with practical, repeatable wellness skills proven to support an individual’s ability to better handle stress, conflict, and adversity.
50-week mentorship program: This one-year program will engage 25 young people aged 11-18 in weekly sessions to develop self-confidence, critical thinking, decision-making and youth empowerment.
The ONSE office will also host a week-long out-of-town retreat for 30 high-risk young men, ages 12-17, focused on self-reflection, group discussion, resolution and growth activities.
Savannah neighborhoods and nonprofits can also participate in ONSE initiatives through grants.
Registered neighborhood associations are eligible for grants up to $15,000. These funds will be used to hire Neighborhood Improvement Teams made up of young people between the ages of 15 and 19 to work in their neighborhoods this summer.
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Participants will earn $10 per hour to help with trash collection, minor painting, outdoor chores for seniors and people with disabilities, and other neighborhood improvement projects. Salaries also include weekly youth violence reduction training.
The ONSE office will be accepting proposals from area nonprofits from June 20 through August 5 to implement credible youth and young adult violence reduction activities. Priority will be given to services targeting young people aged 12 to 24, identified as being involved or at high risk of involvement in armed violence. Training will be provided.
Contact the ONSE office at 912-651-2443 for more information.
Savannah Police Initiatives
The Savannah Police Department also continues to increase youth and community engagement through the Savannah Initiative to Reduce Violence (SIRV). The program emphasizes violence prevention, violence response, family and community support, and police preparedness.
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On the prevention front, the SPD is working to increase the visibility of officers and increase lighting and cameras in high crime areas. The department also focuses on building community relationships through meetings and programs throughout the year.
The department also takes a proactive approach through its Behavioral Health Unit, Clergy Response Team, and monitoring repeat offenders through the Savannah Impact program.
Street Roll Call is also making a comeback after being put on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of being deployed from their compound, officers will travel to different communities for roll call and then begin their shifts in the neighborhood.
SPD Problems: Stolen Weapons, Officer Recruitment and Retention
According to SPD Police Chief Roy Minter, one of the biggest problems facing the department is gun theft. Since January 1, a total of 103 weapons have been stolen from vehicles, including 96 from unlocked cars.
“That’s over 100 firearms that are somewhere in our community. And I’m sure some of them are showing up at some of our crime scenes around the city,” he said, adding that the department continues to issue reminders to keep your vehicles locked.
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Recruitment and retention also continue to plague the department, which is currently down about 100 officers. Minter said it’s a trend happening across the country.
Minter said the department is considering a number of initiatives beyond pay to keep officers on the force. Some ideas include wellness programs, stress management courses, side entry, a fitness program and relaxation rooms for officers.
Katie Nussbaum is the city and county government reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Contact her at email@example.com. Twitter: KnussSMN