Stopping Youth Violence Is the Goal for New Cleveland Cabinet Member

Duane Deskins was sworn in on Tuesday into a newly created cabinet position.
Duane Deskins was sworn in on Tuesday into a newly created cabinet position. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
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Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson on Tuesday swore in Duane Deskins, a former prosecutor, to serve in a new cabinet-level position geared at reducing youth violence in the city.

The appointment comes as Cleveland records its highest number of homicides since 2007. There were 132 in 2016, according to city police, compared with 134 nine years prior.

Deskins worked for decades as a federal prosecutor. In the past few years he headed up the juvenile division in the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office.

Deskins said his new job will be to coordinate public and private efforts against violence, while working to “reduce duplication” and “fill in the gaps, things that are not being done for young people.”

Kids can be pulled into crime by the prospect of wealth or thrill, Deskins said. The city, foundations, nonprofits and businesses, he said, should offer young people something better.

“Things like excitement, how are we keeping our kids busy?” Deskins said in a brief interview after being sworn in. “Access to resources, money. How are we keeping our young people employed? Sense of worth...How are they seeing that the efforts they put into their education and other things will lead to a better future?”

The salary for the new job is $120,000 a year, according to a city spokesman. Cleveland also plans to add two positions to the health department and five to the community relations board to address violence.

City Councilmen Jeff Johnson and Zack Reed, who have long called for the city to focus more on violence, said the mayor has taken too long to put forward this plan.

“I’m going to cooperate as much as I can, but I don’t want people to lose sight of the fact that this is a big, huge problem in Cleveland,” Johnson said in a phone interview. “And I don’t think this appointment is going to have a significant impact in the short run or the long run if we don’t bring in the other stakeholders.”

Johnson said the mayor himself should bring Northeast Ohio corporations to the table to work on the problem. Reed said the effort should involve more local hospitals, in addition to those that have begun “violence interrupter” programs.

City council last month approved $100,000 to help fund one such program at University Hospitals. An interrupter also works at MetroHealth Medical Center. 

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