According to Memphis Crime Commission statistics, gun-related incidents rose by 19.3 percent in 2020 from the prior year. Most ominously, the murder rate rose by 55.1 percent over the same time period. (Photo illustration by Karanja A. Ajanaku)

by Jim Coleman — 

After a year of surging gun violence deaths, members of the Memphis City Council got onboard Mayor Jim Strickland’s proposed Group Violence Intervention Program (GVIP) during the Tuesday, Feb. 2, Memphis City Council meeting.

The vote showing support of the GVIP was 12-0. The next step will be a vote for $2 million to fund the program.

According to Memphis Crime Commission statistics, gun-related incidents rose by 19.3 percent in 2020 from the prior year. Most ominously, the murder rate rose by 55.1 percent over the same time period.

There were nearly 330 gun-related murders in Memphis last year. There have already been 25 murders this year. There were only 18 at this point last year.

“Every sector in our city is concerned about crime. It takes a holistic approach,” said Councilmember Rhonda Logan. “This is the beginning. … I want to make sure that all of the elements are working together to make this happen.”

The program’s outline calls for changing of individual behaviors and changing collective norms to tamp down the numbers. Part of the approach will focus on suppression tactics such as deploying a multi-agency unit. Nuisance laws would also be wielded to seize property used in criminal activity – such as guns.

Outreach workers and intervention programs will be implemented or expanded – both in schools and hospitals – to reach borderline youth and prevent retaliation from victims.

It also calls for a “czar” to marshal resources for responses from neighborhood residents, community organizations and law enforcement. Community mobilization programs will also emphasize skill building in youths such as early childhood education, expanding boys and girls clubs and employment opportunities for teens.

“I am glad to be part of the team to make sure we have positive strides and not just punitive or penal. We want to make sure that we position our youth for turning around,” said Logan.

Strickland also plans to appoint full-time staff to the GVIP.

Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Cincinnati have implemented similar intervention programs with success.

The resolution is sponsored by Council members Jeff Warren and Logan. It was co-sponsored by J. Ford Canale, Chase Carlisle, Frank Colvett, Jr., Patrice J. Robinson. Jamita Swearengen was absent. It had previously been held from the last four council meetings dating back to Dec. 1, 2020.

“It takes about a year to get this up,” Warren said. “We had to work on this through COVID. I appreciate everyone’s contributions and help.”