South Bend Police unveil new strategy to tackle gun violence - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

South Bend Police unveil new strategy to tackle gun violence

The South Bend Police Department is implementing a new crime fighting strategy.  It's called Group Violence Intervention.  Thursday night, for the first time, police held a call-in.  Parole and probation officers ordered 28 people known to have influence on the streets to a meeting held behind closed-door session.

There was no media allowed.  FOX28 agreed not to show up with our cameras, but police did provide us detailed info about the program, how it's working in other cities and what they hope to accomplish in South Bend.

Police have spent months strategizing on the streets and in conference rooms  Using data from every homicide over the last five years and all shooting from the past three years, they've identified 487 people tied to violent groups and gangs.

"That's a very small number.    Dealing with guns, it's all of the violence as far as people being shot and homicides,"  says Detective Sgt. Dominic Zultanski.

Zultanski is leading the effort to tackle this problem in a new way.  "In the past we had a bunch of gun violence in our street and the police would go alright gang X is a problem, let's go out hit the streets, cars everywhere."

Not anymore. 

As part of the new strategy, they called in about 30 of the 487 people in the database for a face-to-face meeting.  "The message is easy.  What you're doing is hurting us, we will help you if you let us and we will stop you if you make us."

It wasn't a choice.  The 30-or-so people were told they had to be there by their parole or probation officers, to hear about the impact of violence from crime victims and learn about a way out from social service providers like Isaac Hunt, Jr. with the Goodwill.  "Whatever you need help with, I'm going to help you," Hunt says.   If you need ID, we're going to figure out how to do it.  If you don't have a GED, we'll figure out where to get it.  If you need housing we're going to find you housing."

Hunt, who was a gang-member decades ago and spent ten years in prison for a violent crime, is optimistic the intervention will work.  Hunt says he would have benefited from a similar offer when he was caught up in crime.  "Nobody came and offered me," he says.  "That's the same thing that's going on now in our community.  We have young people out here who are screaming for help."

The department is getting guidance on the strategy from the National Network for Safe Communities.  It's co-chaired by John Jay College Professor David Kennedy.  Kennedy has written a book on reducing crime called "Don't Shoot."  He says the program has garnered positive results in places like New Orleans and Chicago.  We asked him if he's optimistic it will work in South Bend.  "If it's done more or less right, it will produce, what are for most people, really shocking results."

In order to see those results he says police have to follow through, not only on the offers to help, but also on the promise that if more gun violence occurs the gangs involved will feel the hammer. 

"We will put all resources into making sure we hold them accountable for their crimes," Sgt. Zultanski.  He says it's important at a call-in to talk through the people who are there, not to them, so that they'll take the message away and spread it to the community.  The goal is to get them to tell the people they run with that police mean business.  "If they're not paying their child support, if they're choosing to commit identity theft, if they are out dealing drugs, if they're driving on suspended licenses, yes we're going to hold them accountable for all crimes at all times," he says. 

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