- Associated Press - Thursday, March 13, 2014

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) - Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke’s violence reduction plan has kicked off with letters that were sent to 25 convicted offenders on probation.

The letters ask the group to attend a meeting and threaten that failure to appear could be considered a probation violation.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/1cBUBII) reports the meeting this month will feature prosecutors, police officers, community leaders and crime victims who will convey a single message: The violence has to stop.

The letters are among the first signs of Berke’s initiative since officials spent months of study, training, discussion and meetings to decide how best to deal with rising violence.

Those who attend the meeting will be told that local outreach programs will help as they try to change their lives and in exchange officials want fewer shootings.

Chattanooga Police Lt. Todd Royval said he will tell the group the repercussions if violent crimes keep happening.

“I believe they will take it seriously,” he said. “You can’t guarantee everyone will take it seriously, but … when they see the community is behind everything and that they are part of the community and keeping it safe, it makes more sense.”

He said the police department used its intelligence to determine who to invite.

“When you look and see the same names keep popping up for the shootings and the murders, those are the people we’re going to go after,” Royval said.

Officials expect the program to take time.

“I think as the trust is built and relationships are fostered, then I think it could be an awesome thing,” said Richard Bennett, director of A Better Tomorrow, a nonprofit that serves at-risk groups.

“We’re sincere in our efforts. We’re sincere in the longevity,” he said. “The mayor has four years. This is my life. I plan on teaching someone else this legacy. There’s got to be a dedication to it.”

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Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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