The number of firearm incidents has increased sharply in Akron this year. As Alan Ashworth of the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com reported on Sunday, the episodes are running 25 percent higher than a year ago. That is on top of an escalation after 2015, when firearms incidents climbed one-third.
To be precise, the city saw 334 incidents four years ago. In 2018, the number was 444. Through July, the city had experienced 62 more incidents than at the same point last year.
This makes more difficult the necessary objective of Mayor Dan Horrigan — to halt the decline in the city’s population and even see an increase. Families, understandably, are less inclined to stay, let alone move into the city, if Akron is perceived as unsafe. In truth, the city is safe, generally, crime at much lower levels than three decades ago. That said, there is no less an urgent need to curb gun incidents and violence in the city.
The affected neighborhoods must have the sustained attention of the mayor and his administration, plus many others in the community.
As it is, such efforts are in motion. As Alan Ashworth explained, the Akron Police Department has deployed a Gun Violence Reduction Team in recent years. The team targets those known to be violent offenders. This is an approach that has delivered positive results elsewhere. It reflects what researchers know about the concentration of gun violence, roughly one-quarter of gun homicides taking place in just 1,200 counties across the country.
In Akron, as police Lt. Jason Malick told Ashworth, about 40 individuals commit much of the gun-related crime. The idea involves focusing on this relative few, with the goal of reducing their violent presence and thus the number of firearm incidents, making affected neighborhoods safer and improving the quality of life.
As part of the approach, the city police department has been working with federal prosecutors. Federal gun offenses often carry longer prison sentences. In his 17-point plan for reducing gun violence, Gov. Mike DeWine calls on state lawmakers to increase the penalties for felons who illegally possess firearms and for those who commit felonies while possessing firearms.
The governor understands, and so do Akron officials, that stiffer sentences are just part of addressing gun violence, which mainly is driven by drug trafficking. The Gun Violence Reduction Team works with churches and others in the community to build lines of communication. Yet, as Lt. Malick noted, “Right now, people don’t talk. They don’t want to talk.”
This component of building relationships is crucial to slowing gun violence. Research indicates that those identified as the prime culprits must be helped to see alternative paths, and that requires a city mobilizing a range of organizations offering social services and other support. If the offenders are getting younger, as police officers point out, perhaps there is a greater role for the juvenile court.
Another important aspect goes to transparency, the administration and the police department doing more to engage the community, gaining feedback as a tool for accountability. The distrust in neighborhoods frequently stems from a perception that the rest of the city doesn’t care, or isn’t really committed to reducing gun violence.
All of this may seem like devoting too much attention to a relative few bad actors. Yet the expense would be comparatively small, especially in view of the return for residents and the city as a whole. Ohio cities rightly criticize state lawmakers for paring back their authority to address gun violence. Yet cities still have tools. The Akron Police Department has the appropriate focus. The mayor and the rest of the community must ask: Are we doing enough?