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Youth in Revolt

Youth violence forum goes online after snow causes two cancellations.

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Memphis' bizarre winter weather seems to be working against the creation of a community-based plan to prevent youth and gang violence.

In late January, a public forum intended to gather input from citizens on how to prevent youth violence was postponed when a snowstorm blew through the city. The rescheduled forum, set for February 9th, was also canceled when several inches of snow were dumped on the city by late afternoon.

Memphis was one of six cities selected last October by the Obama administration's National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention. Each city is charged with developing a comprehensive plan to prevent youth violence. The plans must be submitted by March 15th, and they'll be presented for approval at an April 15th summit in Washington, D.C.

Faced with federal deadlines to develop a comprehensive initiative, the Memphis Youth Violence Prevention Policy Council is ditching the public forum idea in favor of an online survey. They're collecting input online until February 20th.

"Because of the timeframe of when the plan needs to be finished to be a part of this federal initiative, we really couldn't get another meeting together fast enough. But we wanted to make sure people did have a way to give their opinons," said Traci Sampson, CEO of Consilience Group, the firm charged with organizing the youth violence prevention plan.

Michelle Fowlkes, director of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, said Memphis was selected because of its high youth crime rate and the city's Operation Safe Community plan, a crime-fighting initiative that addresses everything from data-driven policing to truancy.

"The need here [for this plan] is so great as evidenced by the statistics that show 40 percent of the murder victims in Shelby County in 2009 were 24 and under," Fowlkes said.

Shortly after Memphis' selection, a council of people from more than 20 public and private agencies was formed to create the youth violence prevention plan. The council consists of law enforcement officials, religious citizens. Members are divided into four working groups, assessing methods of prevention, intervention, re-entry, and enforcement.

The University of Memphis' Center for Community Criminology and Research is contributing data from a study of risk factors that lead to youth violence. They're using that data to prioritize the needs addressed in the plan.

"Research tells us that when kids are lacking certain resources, they're more likely to demonstrate problem behaviors and more likely to commit violence," Sampson said. "We're looking for trends in schools, like bullying, truancy, fighting."

Sampson hopes citizen input from the online survey will help prioritize needs. They're also in talks with the other selected cities — Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and Salinas and San Jose, California — on best practices. Once the plan is compiled, the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission will hold a forum to present the plan to the public.

The youth violence prevention input survey is available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/real_talk_about_youth_violence.

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