Youth Services Officer Nancy Stanfield explained Tuesday that while technology is important, the most effective crime-fighting tool available in a community is the community itself. If someone observes suspicious activity, then report it to the police.
She told partners of the Tennessee Targeted Community Crime Reduction grant Tuesday during the monthly meeting at the juvenile center that the public needs to look, pay attention to surroundings and notify the proper authorities of suspicious activity.
“It’s paying attention to your surroundings,” she said. “You can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken.”
But, police have different criteria than the general public and it is not always apparent if anything suspicious is being done.
“It takes time to work whatever it is. You have to collect information and it just takes awhile. The results of what we’re doing today might not show up until 10 years later,” the youth officer said. “You’ve got to remember that gang members have the same rights as you and me. You can’t do anything any different even though they might be tatted from head to toe and have their bandanas hanging out of their pockets.”
Stanfield said the mapping system that went into use in 2011 paid off in a big way after the database was used to solve a crime near the Cleveland Emergency Shelter. It was believed that one juvenile molested an 8 year-old boy.
“We looked at the map and found all sex offenders within a two-block area that had passed through the juvenile court system. That was on a Thursday. He was arrested Friday night,” she said.
There was one individual who stood out more than the others. That information was provided to Cleveland Police Department detective Andy Wattenbarger. As it turned out, that particular individual was actually a juvenile who had been previously tried as an adult. He was out of jail at the time of the felony.
In that case, the mapping system fulfilled its original purpose of building a database accessible to local law enforcement.
“Now we’re seeing how the database can be used to identify gang members,” said Juvenile Justice Center Director Terry Gallagher. “We’re planning for 10 years down the road with gang activity, because we know it’s headed this way and we want to be ahead of the game as much as possible. We don’t want to sit back and wait until everything is so far down the road that we’re trying to catch up.”
Stanfield said most gang members just want to fit in somewhere, so it is vitally important that parents know what their kids do and who their friends are.
“We’ve got kids who come from poor families and well-to-do families. We had two brothers from an upper middle-class family and both of them claimed [allegiance to] Latin Kings,” she said. “As far as breaking the law or juvenile delinquency or anything, you don’t have a set socioeconomic profile. There is no cookie mold. It can affect anybody and everybody.”
If juvenile authorities have knowledge of delinquent behavior, then maybe that knowledge would help some other organization or agency, experts say.
“It’s all about being proactive. I don’t want 10 years from now to not feel safe on the streets after dark,” she said. “We want the Greenway to stay safe. If gang members or wannabe gang members know we’re watching, we’re collecting information, they might think again before they do something.”
In October 2010, Stanfield came up with the idea for a system that could “map” juvenile offenders.
“I wanted a system that would benefit youth service officers by knowing who their probationers lived near, and what types of crimes were being committed in those areas,” she said. She also wanted a system capable of being used by other agencies to identify where juvenile offenders lived who had committed certain crimes, and what crimes had been committed in certain areas of Bradley County.
Stanfield met with law enforcement officials at the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office to learn how their mapping system is used to track adults.
However, the juvenile system could not be combined with the adult system because the two systems are separate entities, and juvenile records are confidential.
After observing the adult mapping and tracking system, Stanfield took her ideas back to Gallaher, who was very supportive of the idea. Together, they looked into available grant possibilities to help the idea move forward. The Tennessee Targeted Community Crime Reduction grant was the one Gallaher felt would be best used for a mapping system.
The three-year, $800,000 grant is funded by the state. Its purpose is to focus on crime in south and east Cleveland. Its mission is to gather support from a wide spectrum of the community and reduce crime related to the use of alcohol and drugs, and to break the familial cycle of incarceration and recidivism.
The grant began Jan. 1, 2011, and ends June 30, 2013. It funds two police officers, a patrol car, and services provided by Boys & Girls Club, Behavioral Research Institute, Bradley County Juvenile Courts, the city of Cleveland and the GRAAB Coalition (Going Respectfully Against Addictive Behaviors).