STEUBENVILLE - A group of people police believe are at the center of violent crimes in the community will be in a courtroom Friday, but, instead of facing prison time, they will be given the chance to turn around their lives.
The city requested the help of a program operated by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine called the Safe Neighborhood Initiative.
The program has been used across the country and has seen success in reducing violent crime in communities, DeWine said Wednesday.
"The whole idea is based on a statistical fact - in every community there is a relatively small number of people committing the majority of the crime," he said.
Those people are on probation through common pleas court or on state parole after serving time in prison. DeWine said that group will have to attend a meeting Friday in the Jefferson County Courthouse as part of their probation or parole requirements.
Bob Fiatal, a former FBI agent and DeWine's director of the Safe Neighborhood Initiative, said the hour-long program will feature talks by City Police Chief William McCafferty, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla, county Prosecutor Jane Hanlin and Robert Miller, supervisory special agent with the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Dr. David Cercone of Trinity Medical Center West will talk about shooting victims and trauma surgery. A representative of Jefferson Behavioral Health System will discuss a telephone hotline that those attending the meeting can call for help at any time. Programs will be outlined for those attending to get help in getting a job or furthering their education.
Michael Thomas, whose son, Demitruis, was stabbed to death, will talk about the effects of violence on a family.
Pastor Vaughn Foster of Christ's Community Church of Steubenville, will talk about the moral implications of violent crime.
DeWine said the message of the meeting Friday is simple - law enforcement and the community have their eyes on you.
"If you mess up, we will come down hard on you and your gang. You can do it the hard way or the easy way with the help of the community. We are trying to create peer pressure," he said.
The program has been implemented by DeWine's office in Warren, Akron and Lima. Those communities have seen improvements in repeat offender numbers in the short amount of time the program has been in place, said DeWine.
The program is based on similar ones conducted in Cincinnati and Boston.
In Cincinnati, the program led to a 41 percent drop in gang homicides and a 22 percent decrease in other violent firearm incidents, the attorney general's office reported
"No program is perfect, but so far so good," he said. "It is easy to track. They (the offenders) are on a list," DeWine said.
DeWine said there will be follow-up meetings in the community in the future.
"We can't do it alone. We are a catalyst in coming in. It is up to the local police, prosecutor and churches. Everyone has to buy into this," DeWine said.
Fiatal said he doesn't want those attending the meeting to leave feeling like they were "browbeaten." He said he wants those attending to realize they control their lives and the lives of their friends.
Fiatal said those from the community who are in prison and set to be released will be included at future meetings. He said he will even visit them in prison to talk with them about the program.
"We have to sustain it and keep it up. We will keep repeating it and keep the message out there," he said.
"It is a very nontraditional method that has proven to be effective," he said.
McCafferty said he is excited about the prospects for Friday's meeting.
"I understand this worked well in other communities and I hope it does the same here. In today's law enforcement, it takes a collaborative effort to solve the problems," he said.
Hanlin said she believes it is a good opportunity to get the community involved.
"It gives community members a chance to show the impact of crime on victims and the community. It also gives them (those attending) a chance to act in a positive manner," she said.