There are 14 people in Asheville who have recently given up a life of violent crime and Asheville Police hope to influence more. Police are using a new approach called Violent Crime Initiative to reduce violent crime in the city.
“We can’t arrest our way out of this problem [violent crime],” said Sgt. Michael Lamb, of the Criminal Investigation Division. “Often people living an impoverished life seek to obtain what they don’t have through criminal means, when that’s all they know.”
Lamb explained the new program is a community based effort to give people who may be caught in a cycle of violence, the skills they need to change their life. Such skills include anger management, financial planning, literacy skills, nutritional planning or addiction recovery.
Lamb said Asheville Police identify a violent group or a chronic offender causing harm to the community and the individual or group leader to come hear a panel of speakers. Speakers include pastors, the district attorney, a US attorney, the county sheriff, the police chief, FBI and DEA supervisory agents and members of the community.
The speakers explain how acts of violence harm the community by creating a sense of fear or creating acts of retribution. They also talk about how violence hurts families and what kind of sentences the perpetrators can expect.
After the initial meeting, those attending are offered to return to Monday night group meetings in which they are offered helpful services and life skills classes through a group of citizens called Changing Together. These Monday night meetings started last fall and Lamb says approximately 14 or more people attend on a regular basis.
“We’ve seen no violent crimes committed by the Monday night regular attendees,” he said.
The police define violent crimes as being homicides, drug trafficking, aggravated assaults, aggravated assaults with weapons, armed robberies and armed robberies with a weapon other than a gun. They deliver letters to those identified as having committed such crimes and invite them to come in for the initial talk.
The meetings are often part of a former offender’s probation or are attended by those recently released from prison in an effort to keep from returning to a life of crime. Others attending may be known offenders whose victims will not press charges.
“We know they’ve committed a violent act, but can’t prosecute because the victim doesn’t cooperate,” said Lamb who explained this often happens when the victim is a known offender such as a drug dealer.
In the year since the program began, the police have held three “call in” meetings and are planning a fourth for March of 2013. They typically invite 20 people and an average of 10 attends. The public is not only invited to attend the call in and Monday night meetings, but is encouraged to help and participate. For more information check the Asheville Police Blotter atwww.ashevillenc.gov/Departments/Police/PoliceBlotter or contact the police department.