Violent crimes across the city are up almost 6 percent from this time last year, but an Innovate Memphis program is working to reverse those numbers in some of the city's most violence-prone neighborhoods.
The 901B.L.O.C. program focuses specifically on youth crime involving guns. Its guiding principle is to meet the city's at-risk youth where they are and help them pursue a non-violent path, according to the director of Innovate Memphis, Justin Entzminger.
901B.L.O.C. operates in Frayser, South Memphis, the Mt. Moriah corridor, and Orange Mound. It is one of Innovate Memphis' most "mature programs," Entzminger said, formed during the A C Wharton administration. It was created to make people more safe and connect at-risk youth to a non-violent life.
"There are a number of approaches to do that," Entzminger said. "The police have a role, but that's not the whole picture. The effort should include intervention and prevention programs."
The 901B.L.O.C. Squad provides both by doing three things. In each of the four target zones, B.L.O.C. Squad interventionists respond to shootings to reduce the likelihood of retaliation, mediate in situations that could lead to violent incidents, and mentor vulnerable youth by connecting them to needed resources.
- A 901B.L.O.C. event in 2015
Entzminger said whether they seek education or employment, the interventionists will help them find that, as well as "walk with them on that path." More than 400 at-risk youth, the bulk of them between ages 18 and 22, have benefited from the initiative since its inception.
The program rates its effectiveness by comparing the youth-involved violent crime rate in its four zones to "control zones," comparable neighboring areas to the zone. Since 2016, youth crime rates in the Frayser, South Memphis, and Orange Mound target neighborhoods have consistently been lower than control areas, according to 901BLOC.
Crime in the Mt. Moriah area is down 30 percent so far in 2017, but Entzminger said it has historically been the toughest challenge.
This raised concern for Memphis City Council member Patrice Robinson, whose district includes areas of that target zone, areas she said used to be "her jewels."
"I have a lot of homeowners in that area," Robinson told B.L.O.C. Squad staff in a council committee meeting last week. "What am I dealing with in the Mt. Moriah area?"
B.L.O.C. staff member Brian Tillman said the area has become home to many who once lived in the Cleaborn and Foote Homes housing projects.
"So what's happening is you have individuals from rival gangs from different sides of the the city, now because of their living status, they've been forced to co-habitate together," Tillman said. "And that's where the violence erupts."
Tillman says in order to make a real difference in the Mt. Moriah area, there have to be more people on the ground, which requires additional funding. B.L.O.C. leadership asked the city council for $450,000 to sustain its presence in its current neighborhoods and to expand into a fifth neighborhood in Westwood. The council approved the request, and programming in Westwood is set to begin within the next two months.