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Council members, residents consider strategies to calm violence in Fort Wayne

Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 11:15 am

As Fort Wayne's homicide body-count climbs toward a record no one wants to break, a committee of residents proposed some measures that might slow the bloodletting.

On behalf of the committee, Building Bridges to a Better Community, Jonathan Ray offered the suggestions to a special discussion meeting of Fort Wayne City Council devoted entirely to the spike in homicides this year.

In 1997, Fort Wayne's worst year for homicides, 44 victims died, according to The Allen County Coroner's Office. So far this year, 39 people in Fort Wayne and Allen County have been homicide victims.

Ray, who is president of the Fort Wayne Urban League, brought these ideas, among others, to the council:

*Commit to an economic-development project in southeast or central Fort Wayne.

*Revamp community-oriented policing to engender stronger connections with neighborhoods

*Pursue greater diversity among the Fort Wayne Police Department's homicide investigators.

*Track violent crimes better to better target efforts at crime prevention.

*Do more to support neighborhood associations and other community groups.

*Improve transportation and employment opportunities.

*Eliminate more dilapidated buildings and other eyesores.

None of these ideas were ordinances for council to vote on, but they set off an extensive discussion of the problem. Many council members sounded sympathetic to at least some of the proposals; still others had ideas of their own they added to the mix.

Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, said he would like to see the city try to target more development in the southeast part of the city, where a disproportionately large share of the homicides this year have been committed. “We don't create jobs, but we create incentives to bring private-sector jobs in,” he said.

Similarly, Councilman Mitch Harper, R-4th, said that as a board member of Greater Fort Wayne, he would push for a broader view of job creation and attraction. Economic development efforts need “to concentrate on finding jobs at all income levels,” especially entry-level jobs, he said.

Ray linked the violence to the higher levels of poverty and unemployment among black residents. “Wherever you have high poverty and high unemployment, anywhere in the world, you have violence,” he said.

Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, disagreed. Poverty and unemployment are side effects of what he described as the root cause of “social pathologies,” including the shootings and killings plaguing Fort Wayne. Crawford said the most important thing to change is large number of single-parent families.

Two or three generations ago, only 5 percent of births were to unmarried mothers. Now 72 percent of minority children and 30 percent of white children are born out of wedlock, Crawford said.

Ray pointed out that the top reason couples, even those with children, break up is money, so improving economic opportunity is key to keeping couples together.

The 2-hour meeting drew many spectators -- more than 100 in the council's meeting room, plus more than 50 down the hall at Citizens Square, where they watched a video feed of the meeting in an overflow room.