Killing Crime 

Local program works to make Memphis safe — and keep it that way.

The Memphis Shelby County Crime Commission has an ambitious goal: to make Memphis "one of the safest communities of its size in the nation by the end of 2011."

Last week, community members gathered to discuss Operation Safe Community, a joint initiative between the crime commission and the University of Memphis. Started in 2006, Operation Safe Community targets crime through 15 strategies that focus on drug and gang activity, student safety, domestic violence, and restoring abandoned buildings.

"We didn't want it to be just a law enforcement program. We wanted it to be broader than that," said Bill Gibbons, Shelby County district attorney general and chair of Operation Safe Community.

Gibbons said that, since the inception of the program, serious crime has decreased 16 percent.

Each strategy is spearheaded by a community leader whose expertise can add to the overall success of the program. For instance, Memphis mayor A C Wharton oversees the "problem properties" part of the plan.

"You don't have to be an expert to see the correlation between the physical condition of our various neighborhoods and the crime within those neighborhoods," Wharton said. After presenting several buildings and explaining their intended uses after renovation — community facilities, housing, open spaces, a charter school — Wharton acknowledged the depth of the problem in many Memphis areas.

"We're going to go after the worst of the worst and do the absolute best we can," Wharton said.

Operation Safe Community also targets drug dealers, gun crime, gang activity, and student truancy. Though the Memphis Police Department plays a vital role, the initiative also works to integrate law-breakers back into the community.

"It's the combination of law enforcement with people in the community that makes this program successful," said Judge John Fowlkes. "Even today, with these successes, our community is creating too many people ready to commit crimes."

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