LORAIN - About 75 public officials, school board members and Lorain residents met Saturday morning to talk about how to curb escalating crime in the city. The meeting ended without an action plan in place, but everyone agreed to meet again in one month to create one.
The meeting was generally positive, with numerous people identifying the city's drug trade as the primary impetus for violent crime - something Police Chief Cel Rivera confirmed.
Rivera said the police usually know who's behind a crime, but when witnesses, and even the victims themselves, refuse to talk to the police, there's not much officers can do. He also said much of the crime is "youth-driven." The geographical feuding between the city's south and west sides often compounds the problem, he said.
Two gangs were the focus of a sweep of arrests last year that put a few dozen young men behind bars. Rivera said there were no shootings and very little crime in the months immediately following those arrests. Several shootings in December prompted Saturday's community forum.
Most attendees said the problem of youth violence must to be addressed first and foremost in the home.
One resident suggested parents be sentenced to community service alongside their children.
Safety Director Phil Dore suggested identifying and helping those families that "don't have their households under control."
Dore said it's not just about putting convicted criminals in jail, it's also about "stopping people from becoming criminals."
Local churches and schools were discussed as resources that might give kids choices other than drug dealing and violence. The call went out for the community churches to set up more youth programs and organize mentoring programs in the schools - starting in kindergarten.
Tony Richardson, a graduate of Admiral King High School, Oberlin College and The Ohio State University's law school, brought his education and experience home to work in the schools helping to get students to go on to college or prepare for the work force. He said much more needs to be done to get kids college-ready and especially work-force ready.
"We have a lot of kids who, let's face it, are not really ready for college who are also not skilled workers," he said. "We need to find ways to get these kids ready. ... I'm talking about teaching them professionalism, etiquette, how to talk, people skills."
Pastor Dennis Johnson of Fairfield Christian Center agreed.
"Education is key," he said. "The root of the problem is a lack of sufficient education and jobs. ... If they're working, they have money in their pocket and they have a choice between selling drugs or going to work."
Everyone agreed the city's administration and the police department and sheriff's department can't do it alone.
"It will take the entire community to take back these streets," said Mayor Tony Krasienko. "We want you involved. We need you involved."
With manpower stretched as thin as it's been in more than a decade, Rivera agreed that groups like 100 Men of Lorain County, which spearheaded the "Text a Tip" program, and Neighborhood Watch groups working to dispel the "snitches get stitches" climate of fear help, but it's just a start.
Neighborhood- and even suspect-targeted policing is becoming the norm rather than waiting for a crime to occur and then responding to a call, Rivera said. Trying to stem the flow of guns is next to impossible since most are stolen or bought at gun shows where record-keeping is hazy at best, he added.
Rivera said the fight against crime must start at home. He's tired, he said, of his officers going to someone's house and being told by the parents that the suspect isn't home and doesn't have a gun only to have officers find the suspect and the gun in the house.
"I'm talking about the minority community because that's who the victims are," he said. "Mom, Dad, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters ... maybe we need some tough love. Take away the gun, get them involved in the church, do something. Families and friends need to say, 'Enough is enough.' "
There was also a lot of discussion about Lorain's "defeatist" attitude and how its citizenry denigrates the city and how that affects the overall community spirit. This time around, several people stressed, action must follow the talk and the meetings.
Krasienko said he supports helping people set up Neighborhood Block Watch programs and mentoring in the schools - two things that are already in place throughout the city and are working.
"We don't need to reinvent the wheel," he said. "We just need to make it turn."
The attendees agreed to meet again next month and bring with them definitive "action plans" for implementation throughout the city.
Anyone interested in setting up a Neighborhood Block Watch group can contact Lorain's coordinator, Don Killinger, at (440) 429-2023 or e-mail him at email@example.com.
Contact Alicia Castelli at 329-7155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.