Gulfport police chief announces new crime reduction program

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport police hope to reduce crime and save more lives with a new program.

On Tuesday afternoon Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania presented the program called High Risk Reduction Initiative at the Gulfport City Council meeting. He said it targets at-risk young men who most likely to pull the trigger or die by the bullet.

"We can't police ourselves out of youth violence," said Chief Papania.

Chief Papania said crime scenes are becoming far too common. "Families harmed, law enforcement called, crime scenes and it's become some what of a familiar scene for us," he said.

After extensive research, Chief Papania spent a week in Massachusetts to meet with state and local officials on a program called the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative or SSYI. Law enforcement and those serving in other aspects of criminal justice told him the program is working, resulting 35 fewer victims of violence each month in Boston from 2012-2013.

"It's something that we as a community are longing for. Whether it is the business clubs or the civic groups or schools or just each of you individuals. We all recognize that we all have a part to play and some people look at you and say, 'What can I do to help?' And that's the great thing about our community. They want to help. They just want you to point them in the right direction," said Harrison County District Attorney Joel Smith.

"This appears to be exactly what we need because it is hand reaching around so many elements of what young people are going through," said Councilwoman Ella Holmes Hines.

Chief Papania said the program would be implemented by Climb CDC and target men 14 thru 24, a group highest at risk of being involved in firearms violence. He said the program will pay outreach workers to bring in troubled youth.

"They've done everything society has ever asked of somebody living a criminal lifestyle. They've stopped, they've turned themselves around and now they want to contribute back to their community," said Chief Papania.

The chief said the outreach workers will be made up of people who have turned their lives around for the better.

"Those that are very high risk that have a significant presence in criminal activity or with law enforcement, we've not been able to serve them. Now we're going to be able to bring in staff and resources to show that there's a better way," said Stephanie Mathes
Climb CDC CEO.

The program would also assess the needs of young men providing education, behavioral health, and employment opportunities. "We always talk about taxes and we talk about road projects and we talk about these things to people running for elected office. We need to be talking about their commitment to funding mental health issues," said Councilman Myles Sharpe.

Chief Papania said those who end up in the High Risk Reduction Initiative will never the leave the system, even if they meet success. He said those who enter will always be monitored, but he said it's not a bad place to be. "I've got some guys that are former gang members, former inmates thats good people that come to me and want to help the community," said Councilman Truck Casey.

"Councilman, that's the labor pool that we're going to be going after. When we go to find these outreach workers, the been there done its. That's what we're going with," Chief Papania said to Casey.

Chief Papania said the program is going to need funding. City leaders plan to discuss the program again.

Copyright 2018 WLOX. All rights reserved.