About 60 police officers and community members met at the Statesville Civic Center to brainstorm solutions to the youth violence plaguing Statesville in recent years, continuing a community conversation about the issue.

After a welcome by host Statesville Police Chief David Onley, moderator Bryan Duncan presented the guidelines to foster an orderly and productive session, including respecting and embracing the diversity of participants’ backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints.

Duncan, the executive director of I-CARE, noted that potential solutions participants suggest may not be feasible because of the constraints of limited resources, including access to financial backing, materials, or information.

Some solutions might also be limited because of the constraints of laws, policies, or institutional structures.

Duncan then divided the room into five groups, asking each group to spend 30 minutes devising three possible solutions to six questions posed to the participants. After the brainstorming session, a scribe for each group put the group’s top two answers on chart paper hanging on the walls of the Statesville Civic Center facility.

Duncan read out group responses and then asked each individual to place a dot sticker beside one solution for each question as a voting technique.

After the voting, Duncan revealed the consensus answer to each question. The first query considered the age group of youth on which the SPD should focus its violence preventative efforts. The overwhelming consensus of the final vote was ages 10-18.

To better support at-risk youth and provide them with alternatives to violence, participants selected developing a strong and consistent mentoring program for young, at-risk males as the top priority.

In response to a question on specific youth programs and other preventative measures, participants again selected mentorship programs that could even include paid internships for youths.

Participants suggested partnering with and expanding existing organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, 4-H, and Scouting to assist in this effort.

To address cultural, systemic, or structural barriers, participants voted overwhelmingly for court-mandated parenting classes for guardians of youth in the court system or parents whose children are on the path to legal consequences because of their behavior or actions.

They also strongly supported working with parents on how to budget their income and access available resources to help them reach sustained economic sustainability to overcome barriers related to low family income.

After bemoaning Statesville’s lack of entertainment (closed movie theaters, bowling alley, and community pool), participants voted for establishing a youth center in South Statesville that would offer sports, mentoring, and job and life skills. They also suggested a police explorer program be offered to foster relationships with officers.

To measure the success of SPD’s efforts, participants suggested looking at statistics of youth offenses and school disciplinary offenses to note annual trends. They also suggested measuring the number of events targeted to youths and the strength of the commitment to programs supporting youths over time.

After thanking participants for their input, Duncan noted that the responses will serve as baseline information to help guide future SPD efforts related to youth violence.

As he closed the event, Chief Onley shared two pieces of good news. A grant funding a seventh-grade educational program to prevent gang violence has been awarded, and the department also just received a federal grant to fund four Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) officers, whose focus will be preventing youth violence.

In an interview, Chief Onley said the community’s responses and ideas were very informative. He particularly liked developing male mentorship programs as a focus for the department’s efforts.

“This meeting will help us focus on the areas that the community says we need to look at and come up with ways, with programs to address these issues and look or new things,” he said.

Onley reminded community members that addressing the youth violence issue will require the community’s support and commitment.

“We’re not going to fix it alone. We know that,” he said.

He is particularly excited about the four new COPS positions. The grant provides 75 percent of the officers’ salary for the next three years.

“We are going in the right direction. I always say it cautiously, but since May we’ve been focused on some of the younger people involved in violent crime, and we’ve seen a reduction in the city with gun-related violence,” the chief said.

Onley said that a crime reduction team has also been targeting individuals associated with gang-type activity and trying to get them out of the area.

The chief is enthusiastic about starting the youth rebuilding efforts through mentorship programs.

“You always want to keep the positive relationships, build relationships. That’s what we are working on.”

Onley praised community resource coordinator NaKayla Griffin as an important asset in these outreach and prevention efforts. The Statesville native built strong community relationships and acquired extensive knowledge of Statesville’s issues and needs in her former position as director of operations for the Boys & Girls Club of the Piedmont.

Onley praised Griffin’s ability to connect with children and teens, saying they will talk to her in ways they will not talk to other SPD employees.

“Everything is going in a positive direction and is going to keep going that way,” he said.

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