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Akron officials want to pilot a 'Street Team' to try to curb gun violence this summer

Akron Public Safety Strategist Tony Ingram (left) gives a presentation to city council members on a new initiative aimed at curbing gun violence in the city at Akron Family Restaurant on May 20, 2024.
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Akron Public Safety Strategist Tony Ingram (left) gives a presentation to city council members on a new initiative aimed at curbing gun violence in the city at Akron Family Restaurant on May 20, 2024.

Akron is preparing a pilot program that would train people who have experience with gun violence to try to help curb it.

The proposed “Akron Street Team” initiative would train “credible messengers” – previous offenders of gun crimes who now work on prevention efforts – to work with residents in neighborhoods where crime is most likely to occur, said Tony Ingram, the city’s public safety strategist.

“The idea is neighborhood solutions for neighborhood problems,” Ingram said.

Ingram outlined the program in a special city council caucus at Akron Family Restaurant Monday.

If the plan is approved by city council, the team will determine hotspots for crime and violence in the city using information from the Akron Police Department, Ingram said. The messengers won't work directly with officers; rather, another agency will provide them with the information, he said.

The messengers will make connections and build trust with individuals in the community who are likely to commit or experience gun violence, such as gang members, Ingram said. Then, when a shooting occurs the messengers will reach out to the individuals connected to it or who may be at risk for committing a crime, he said.

“We want to stop retaliation,” Ingram said. “So, if we have a gun violence incident, we’re going to intervene, so we don’t continue down that line.”

The messengers’ lived experience allows them to connect with and impact individuals in a way police, mental health professionals and others can’t, he said.

“The stories that you hear from them offer an immense amount of hope for folks who, frankly, feel hopeless, in terms of what’s happening in their lives,” Ingram said.

The street team members will also reach out to family members and loved ones of gun violence victims to offer resources and support, he added.

The credible messengers will likely be paired with a trained mental health professional, he said.

Eight individuals or groups have already been identified as possible participants, he added.

Another goal is to empower the messengers, Ingram said.

“They’re not the person they were before. They have a different process; they have a different mentality, and they are really, really committed to giving back and no longer taking from,” he said. “It’s not just enough to be involved in the system. It’s about being transformed.”

City officials plan to put the program before city council once a budget is finalized. They plan to select three to six messengers for the pilot, he added.

Council President Margo Sommerville suggested ward councilmembers could identify residents in their wards who could potentially join the program if it goes well.

The pilot would take place in one or two neighborhoods, Ingram said. They plan to test it out in places that experience significant crime, but not the biggest hot spots, Ingram added.

When Ward 5 Councilmember Johnnie Hannah asked why, Ingram said they want to make sure the program is successful before trying it out in the highest-risk areas.

The first street team workers would be vetted and trained in early June, Ingram said, and if approved, city officials plan to roll out the program by August.

They wwould also collect data throughout the process so they can make changes when necessary, he added.

Similar initiatives are already taking place in cities including Detroit and Kansas City. Aside from a decrease in gun violence in those areas, there is not enough data yet to determine the efficacy of these similar programs, he added.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.