Saturday, September 19, 2009

Nashville police focus on weekend crime

By Nicole Young • THE TENNESSEAN • September 19, 2009 Plainclothes police officers hit the streets each weekend in a campaign to crackdown on crime and gang activity in Nashville's neighborhoods. The initiative launched in 2006, called Operation Safer Streets, is about saturation, said Metro Police Sgt. Gary Kemper of the specialized investigations unit. "Every weekend, we usually have one or two other agencies going out with us," Kemper said. "If I can send 20 cars to an area at a time, it will deter crime. Word gets out, and when we hit an area, we can shut it down." This year, the Operation Safer Streets has resulted in 2,783 arrests and 34 gun seizures. Officers have conducted 370 field interviews with people they believe have information about gangs and crime in the city. Officers from every Metro precinct, the Davidson County Sheriff's Office, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, FBI and the United States Marshals join the patrols, usually working Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. "None of us want to come out at 6 p.m. and work until 2 a.m. but that's when the crime is occurring,'' Kemper said. "And, when the crime pattern changes, that's when we change our hours." Police decide where to work based upon weekly crime activity, said Kristin Mumford, Metro police spokeswoman. Some of the officers target a specific address or area. Others walk the streets, making contact with community members or possible gang members who might have information about any open cases. Last weekend, the initiative netted 65 arrests. Areas targeted included Madison, the J.C. Napier public housing development, University Court, Murfreesboro Pike, Thompson Lane, Harding Place and the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. Fair gets attention For Buck Dozier, executive director of the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, the extra officers are a welcome addition. Dozier, who took the reins as director 18 months ago, says the fair once had a bad reputation, but there have been no arrests or gun seizures at the fair since he has been there. "It had an image of not being a safe place," Dozier said. "But, we've increased patrols and we've adopted a zero tolerance policy." On any given day, 43 off-duty Metro Police officers work security at the fair. The Operation Safer Streets officers are not included in that total. "All large fairs across the country get that gang element," he said. "In the past two years, we've noticed less and less because of (electronic metal detectors) and increased security measures, but it's good to have more officers, especially those that will come in and talk to gang members or those associated with them to further deter crime." For Mumford, the Operation Safer Streets campaign not only serves as a crime deterrent, but also as a method for gathering information. "This unit does a lot of things behind the scenes," she said. "For example, the field interviews they conduct could be, and have been, helpful in the future in identifying suspects in cases." Cynthia Orr, of Belshire Road, credits police with improving the neighborhood in East Nashville where she grew up. "When I used to live in East Nashville back in the '90s, the crime was bold and in your face,'' she said. "Today, it's a different story. That neighborhood in East Nashville is completely different.''

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