Tablet Local

Fort Worth targets gun violence, gangs in select neighborhoods

Officials are taking aim at gun violence and gang activity in Fort Worth neighborhoods under an initiative announced Tuesday.

Called “Not On My Block,” the campaign partners federal and local law enforcement agencies to increase enforcement and encourages residents living in neighborhoods including Polytechnic Heights, Cavile Place, the Seminary area and Stop Six to report such crimes. The two-year program, called Project Safe Neighborhood, is funded by a $500,000 grant awarded by the Justice Department.

“We want to reduce any kind of perception that these neighborhoods present a good opportunity to commit a crime,” said Ken Shetter, executive director of the Safe City Commission, which is overseeing the grant.

“We want to focus resources there and make it very visible and very well-known that if you commit a gang crime in these neighborhoods, you are more likely to get caught,” Shetter said.

“That everybody who lives there knows that there are avenues they can do something about it without fear of retribution.”

At a news conference announcing the initiative Tuesday morning, officials say they have already seen reductions in aggravated assaults, slaying and gang-related and gang-involved crimes since the campaign began in January.

Police Chief Jeff Halstead said enforcement of the initiative is a collaborative effort among the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Fort Worth’s neighborhood patrol officers, gang unit officers and zero-tolerance officers.

“When the prevention part doesn’t work, that’s when we have to do the enforcement part,” said ATF Speical Agent in Charge Robert Champion.

“During the course of these nine months, we’ve arrested 31 individuals and seized 61 firearms,” Champion said. “These arrests include multi-convicted felons, gang members and narcotics violations. Over half of the individuals arrested were multi-convicted felons.”

Sarah Saldaña, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said the grant is part of President Barack Obama’s Now Is the Time program, a plan to protect children and communities by reducing gun violence.

She said 60 communities nationwide applied for the grant. Fort Worth was one of a handful to receive the funding.

“There is a reason that we believe it is important to focus on the communities that need the most help in terms of these efforts, particularly the gun violence and other violent crime,” Saldaña said. “… Nationally there are statistics that show if you can focus efforts on a particular neighborhood that you know has that need, there is improvement.”

But, she said, the community’s residents have to play a part by reporting what they are seeing.

“I trust that this appeal we make this morning will not fall on deaf ears,” she said. “Federal law enforcement, local police — we’re not the answer to everything. We need the help of the community in these efforts.”

After the news conference, law officers and volunteers walked the targeted neighborhoods, distributing door hangers with information about the campaign and ways for residents to report crime.

Mailers are also being distributed, providing residents with contacts to call if they suspect criminal activity, along with tips such as how to recognize signs of gang membership and activity.

“Our excellency comes when we partner with the community, when we partner with the federal law enforcement, when we partner with our private-sector agents that really have an interest in making quality of life here great,” Halstead said. “You look at any amazing success in law enforcement and it’s because we engage with the community.”