City, county leaders unveil plan to crack down on gun violence

Top officials representing nearly all branches of local government and law enforcement gathered outside Hennepin County Government Center today in an effort to stem youth violence one gun at a time.

"We are deadly serious about getting tough on juvenile violence," said City Council Member Paul Ostrow (1st Ward).

Ostrow chairs the Hennepin County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CJCC), a group consisting of Mayor R.T. Rybak, Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward) Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan and numerous others to provide a “safe and secure environment ” by administering a system of justice that ensures offender accountability to the state, victims and community, according to a city news release.

The multi-pronged effort to keep guns away from youth, ages 10 to 17, includes:
• New court-sanctioned penalties for youths caught carrying any type of gun, replica or not;
• Aggressive, street-level policing efforts “targeting juveniles with previous gun offenses who have active warrants” to get them to turn themselves in;
• Increased supervision of juveniles on probation for prior gun offenses;
• And “strong, consistent enforcement” of Hennepin County curfews and replica firearms.

Rybak said that keeping guns out of the hands of children begins at home.

"Far too many young people feel safer carrying a gun than not carrying a gun," Rybak said, citing the need for "deeper partnerships" with young people.

Rybak has championed a number of start-up programs designed at ending youth violence, including a program which has enlisted 10 city employees so far to mentor at-risk youth from Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Rybak said there must be tougher enforcement for first offenders, but also better jobs and further education of youth and parents alike.

“The goal is to educate them not to pick up a gun in the first place,” Rybak said of area youth. “Don’t allow your kids to carry any gun, even a replica gun.”

In 2006, CJCC member and Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan said 1,500 guns were seized, equaling about four per day. In 2007, that number fell slightly to 1,200 seizures, Dolan said.

Since the establishment of the Juvenile Justice Center at the Hennepin County Government Center, there has been a 20 percent drop in violent crime in both 2007 and 2008, Rybak said.

However, Doris Thomas, the mother of a youth shot dead after he pointed a replica gun at Minneapolis officers Feb. 24, 2006, reminded those in attendance of the ultimate goal of the new enforcement strategy.

"As a community, we all lose on the potential of what could and should have happened with our children," Thomas said. “Our goal as a city is zero homicides.”