SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Since New Year’s Eve, a surge of shootings in the Hostess City left 11 injured and one dead. In response, Mayor Van Johnson introduced one new program and reintroduced another, both aiming to curb violent crime.
Johnson formally introduced the new Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE) program at his weekly press conference Tuesday morning, but says the program has been up and running for a few weeks now. Johnson said he hopes the program will identify people who are at risk of violent crime or have a history of committing those crimes.
“We know who these folks are, and so if we can interrupt either their becoming a victim or them perpetrating a crime we’re able to help address this,” Johnson said. “We also want to connect them to a comprehensive support system network.”
“If you want to get out of this life and do something better, then we want to be able to help facilitate that happening.” He also said ONSE could help track the community’s progress in reducing crime and increasing neighborhood safety.
The $1M dollar program will provide community grants to organizations providing conflict management, messengers, violence interrupters, after-school activities, youth sports, counseling and mentoring for kids most vulnerable to violence.
“We’ve been doing this for a while, it’s now coordinating into one house and I think it has to be both, people-based and event-based,” Johnson said.
Another goal of the program is to work closely with local police to help achieve these goals with similar programs proven effective in other cities, Johnson said.
“Law enforcement has a law enforcement role, but on the other end of it, there is a huge public engagement role,” Johnson said. “They’re what’s called ‘credible messengers.’ People that are in the community that people trust that are not affiliated with law enforcement.”
Johnson also called on parents to help identify these problems in their kids, saying that usually, a parent knows what’s going on with their children and urged them to speak up.
Johnson said parents were vital in the success of the previous gun buy-back program. The buyback program was beneficial last year, helping remove a lot of guns off the streets and out of the hands of minors.
“We’re going to try to buy some guns off of these streets,” Johnson said.
The gun buyback program is still in its early stages with funding still needed, but the success of the previous program gives Johnson hope that this time around it will help reduce violence.
“Young people just wanted the money,” Johnson said. “If I give you $100 and you don’t have to put a gun to somebody’s head, they took it.”
Watch the full press conference below.