RANDOLPH COUNTY, N.C. — Law enforcement in Randolph County are getting ready to roll out a new way to crack down on violent crime in the community.
It's called Project Safe Neighborhood. It's the same program in place in other areas of the Triad, including High Point and Davidson County, and it has proven successful at decreasing violent crime rates.
The basis of the program is identifying the people in the community who are most at risk of either committing a violent crime or being the victim of one.
Law enforcement then calls those people in and offers them two options.
The first option is to take advantage of resources to help them turn their lives around, such as childcare, education, job training, transportation and more. If not, and someone commits another violent crime, law enforcement and prosecutors will use the strictest legal consequences.
Randolph County has been working to implement the program for several months. Local leaders decided to use Project Safe Neighborhood as a preventative measure.
“One violent crime is too many. Randolph County is a relatively safe county but still there are violent crimes that occur,” U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina Matt Martin said. "But they were seeing trends in the county’s around them, and the question was, are we going to sit and risk that some of those things are going to be big-time problems here or are we going proactive steps?”
It's been a months-long process to get things started. The county hired a coordinator for the program. They also went to the community to get partners to help put resources and services in place to help. Another major part is tracking the data to find out where violent crime is coming from in the area and finding the people most likely to commit violent acts.
The University of North Carolina Greensboro helps find that information. They analyze crime data in the county and do surveys with law enforcement and the law enforcement community to get the best results. In the last few weeks, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the district attorney and local law enforcement got those findings.
“For example, in Randolph County, most of the violent crime is associated with groups or gangs or with drugs and drug sales or with people who have had multiple interactions with police in the past,” Marin said.
The other way the community has to prepare is through special law enforcement training. That's to ensure they are able to enforce those strict legal penalties.
“So the training is intended to help them prepare to bring federal cases to work on federal investigations. It’s intended to help them prepare for the scrutiny that will come in federal court. It’s also intended to help the rights, the federal constitutional rights, of those they are investigating or arresting,” he said.
Right now, they are planning to roll out the program in the next few weeks.
That will kick off with a call-in for the group of people identified as most likely to re-offend. State, local, and federal law enforcement, along with prosecutors and other members of the community, will meet with the group face-to-face. They will explain the two choices and also the risks.
U.S. Attorney Matt Martin says an important thing to remind them is they're not just at risk of committing the violent act. Many of them are also at risk of being the victim.
“We post pictures of those who have been called in who have since been murdered, and it’s very sobering. You walk in and there are 15, 20, 25 pictures of people on the table who are now victims of violence who didn’t listen to the message and then went out and they got killed,” he said.
So far the U.S. attorney says they have gotten a great response from the community which is important to make the program successful.