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The Latest

Open Letter to the Citizens of Chattanooga

Posted by Andy Berke on 22-Mar-2014

Over the past year, we have made improving public safety our number one priority. This week, our community took the next step in making our streets safer by holding our first “call-in,” an intervention with thirteen members with connection to the groups causing the most violence in Chattanooga. City Hall, community members, law enforcement, families who had lost loved ones, and people who had turned their lives around, delivered the following message:

“We want you safe, alive, and out of prison. We are determined to keep our entire city free from violence, and that includes you.”

In preparation for the call-in, we wanted to keep the public informed. To do so, we offered increased access to a reporter from the Chattanooga Times Free Press (“TFP”), including otherwise closed meetings. In return, we asked the TFP to steer clear of the call-in itself, as reports of group members and individual citizens meeting with law enforcement can lead to threats, intimidation and reprisal. We always knew reporters had a job to do; we only pushed for confidentiality of identity, not of process. Professor David Kennedy, founder of the principles that make up the Chattanooga Violence Reduction Initiative, advised us this is standard national practice and this request has been consistently honored in cities around the country.

Unfortunately, Thursday night two reporters from the TFP showed up in the parking lot to talk to participants as they left the call-in. This morning, they printed the names of several individuals involved, and they have told us they will seek out more specifics to print.

This is wrong and does nothing to serve the public. We have been -- and continue to be -- transparent about this process, the policies behind it, and the outcomes it brings. Printing the names of those who attend the call-in, particularly those ordered to participate as a condition of their status as probationers and parolees, adds nothing to the public discourse; it simply puts the group members, individual citizens, and law enforcement officers in danger.

There’s an old saying: Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. Well, this is one worth fighting about. We said at the call-in that we wanted to keep everyone there safe, and we meant it. The actions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press do the opposite. The protection of the first amendment does not absolve our local newspaper from being constructive members of our community. We will continue to provide you, the public, as much information as possible while shielding the identity of those who can be harmed -- because this is what it takes to keep our police officers, call-in participants, and all our citizens safe.

Mayor Andy Berke - City of Chattanooga

Councilman Moses Freeman - Chair, Public Safety Committee

Chief Stan Maffett - Chattanooga Police Department

Richard K. Bennett - Founder and Director, A Better Tomorrow, Inc.

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Mayor Berke Issues 1st Executive Order

Posted by Andy Berke on 04-Feb-2014

This morning, Andy Berke issued his first executive order as Mayor of Chattanooga. The order effectively strengthens the City’s existing Code of Ethics while increasing measures to ensure every employee has a clear understanding of ethical expectations as well as consequences.

“I feel strongly, as does our community, that city employees must always make decisions in the best interest of our citizens. This Executive Order is a strong signal that any partial or conflicted behavior will not be tolerated in my administration,” said Mayor Andy Berke.

“Through my Executive Order, I am holding City of Chattanooga employees to the highest ethical standards and clearly spelling out unacceptable behavior in my administration. I will not tolerate the use of public office for private gain. I will not allow employees to give preferential treatment to any person if it contradicts the very best interest of our citizens. Employees must be impartial in every decision and must always act in a way that upholds the integrity of the city of Chattanooga.”

In addition to clarifying the existing Code of Ethics ordinance, the Executive Order goes a step further by adding the additional measures:

  • Ethics Pledge for Mayor’s Staff, Appointed positions, and board appointments;
  • Duty to Report that clearly requires employees to report any known wrongdoing;
  • Employee Contracts are required to have an added Ethics provision;
  • Access to Ethics training for all employees.  

In addition to the Mayor’s Executive Order, Mayor Berke has instructed the Office of the City Attorney to update the Code of Ethics Ordinance. One of these updates will include forming an internal Ethics Committee to assist in the review of ethics complaints. This Ethics Committee will consist of the City Financial Officer, Director of Human Resources, and Chairperson of the City Council.

“These are values I strongly believe in and they demonstrate that I will run the government as Chattanoogans demand – honest, responsible, and ethical. Through this Executive Order, I’m proud to strengthen the City’s ethical standards not just for today and tomorrow but for years to come,” said Mayor Berke.

The Executive Order goes into effect immediately. Changes to the City Ordinance will be presented to City Council on February 11, 2014. 

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Chattanooga shootings in the crosshairs: 'We can' change the equation

Posted by Andy Berke on 14-Jan-2014

Gunshot wound to neck — minor injury; Victim black male; Showed up at Memorial Hospital. Name given believed to be false ... No shots-fired calls in area, no crime scene located."

— Text to Andy Berke

The text above is but one I have received since I've been mayor, but it could serve as a template for many others. It's a main reason I decided to run for this office; and these texts, and stories from countless people across our city, have led me to an inescapable conclusion: We must do something about the shootings.

I heard it on the campaign trail, and it has been repeated again and again since I took office nine months ago. Shootings affect more than just the people involved. They make people feel less safe in their homes; businesses worry their customers won't show up; and, worst of all, shootings tend to result in more shootings.

That's because retaliation is the main impetus behind gun violence in our community. In Chattanooga, as in every city, gun violence is concentrated among a small number of extremely active groups -- "gangs," drug crews, "sets," and the like. Across cities, up to three-quarters of all homicide is connected with group members representing less than half a percent of the population. The thinking is not complicated. You shot at me and my group, so my group and I are going to shoot at you and your group. And the cycle keeps going. It is concentrated among young black men, who in some neighborhoods are at terrible risk for being shot, killed, and going to prison.

We must change that equation.

Fortunately, we can. A few months ago, we launched the Chattanooga Violence Reduction Initiative (VRI) modeled after the ceasefire concepts adopted around the country. Here's how it works. First, we map out the different groups around the city. Second, we show people we take action when shootings occur. Third, we communicate with them clearly and effectively: If a shooting occurs, law enforcement will focus in on you and your group for any and all crimes committed -- drugs, warrants, open cases, probation and parole violations, anything -- no matter which person pulls the trigger. And fourth, we offer services like vocational support and alcohol and drug rehabilitation to those who are willing to put down their weapons.

You also change the discussion. There are divides between law enforcement and the community, and it frequently boils down to race. The police have to be willing to see the community's perspective, and the neighborhoods have to understand law enforcement's desire to improve their streets. Once that conversation begins, the group members can hear a powerful voice -- the unified, moral voice of a community who wants violence to stop.

As this system has operated around the country, it has become apparent all the steps are necessary. The city must show its resolve so groups know it means business. Once that occurs, you can let the groups know their shootings will no longer be tolerated. At the same time, you open every door possible for those who want to change their lives. The goal is not to keep arresting, but to keep Chattanooga's young black men -- and everybody else -- alive, out of prison, and with a decent chance at a good and successful life.

When done right, it works. In Boston, the youth homicide rate declined by 60 percent. Cincinnati reduced its group-related murders by 41 percent. Chicago and New Orleans, traditionally amongst the most violent cities in the country, both saw historic drops last year after adopting the approach.

Here, we are in the middle of adopting this system, combining it with other policies like increasing the size of the police force, closing down event halls, and greater coordination between federal, state and local officials.

We saw progress at the end of last year. I took office in the middle of April. In the first 8 months of the year, we averaged 11.875 shootings a month. The last four months those numbers went down to seven, a 41 percent drop. We had 17 murders in our first 8 months of 2013, while we had only two in the last four, neither of which was group related.

In those same last four months, we saw 359 children participate in our new reading program, an opportunity that exists as we transform our recreation centers into Youth and Family Development Centers. I spoke a few weeks ago with an impressive group of young men in our recently initiated CAP program, mentoring teenagers on the life skills they will need to be successful in the long run.

Yet we must do something about the shootings today. That's why VRI is on track. While four months of improved numbers is a good sign, we must replicate success again and again, being diligent in communicating the consequences of gunfire and placing opportunities in front of those who want to leave a life of violence behind.

I hate every text, every phone call informing me a shot has been fired in Chattanooga -- and I am committed to changing it. The foundation of a better city is built on safety. The Chattanooga VRI is an important building block.

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Chattanooga Violence Reduction Initiative

Posted by Andy Berke on 11-Dec-2013

This morning, I provided a community update on our Chattanooga Violence Reduction Initiative (VRI), a targeted strategy that will decrease violence in our city. I was joined by members of law enforcement, outreach organizations, churches, the judicial system, and City Council - all individuals invested in making our streets safer.

Chattanooga VRI is based on the guiding principles of the National Network of Safe Communities. These principles have been deployed in cities across the country, like High Point, NC, Boston, Chicago, and Baltimore, and have produced incredible results.

The community partners involved in Chattanooga VRI are already working closely to create the specific tactics to address violence. Coupling proven principles with a Chattanooga-specific approach, I have no doubt we will see real results in 2014.

I will continue to have periodic meetings to keep the community updated on our progress. If you have feedback or questions I would love to hear from you.

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City Service

Posted by Andy Berke on 21-Nov-2013

At Tuesday's Burgers with Berke, I sat down with City employees who have recently gone above and beyond in serving our community.

Employees like Steve Pack, our 11th Street Garage Supervisor, who works hard everyday to lead his team and boost morale. Or Shneka Whaley, a Recreation Specialist serving as a role model for kids that frequent our YFD centers, who earned her Masters in Education just last week. And Captain Rogers and Firefighters Peterson and Williams, who were all three injured recently in the line of duty.

I am thankful for the hard work of these city employees and countless others. They are great examples of how local government can work for our citizens, and ultimately make Chattanooga a better place.

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