Chattanooga City Council members heard a proposal from Boyd Patterson, gang task force coordinator, to make two additional hires to his team during their afternoon agenda session Tuesday.
Patterson approached the council to answer questions and comment on his plans to fill the positions of outreach worker and violence interrupter for the group charged with working to alleviate the city's ongoing problem with gangs. Patterson said that the positions were primary components of the intervention side of the task force's model and had been proven successful in other cities.
For the full-time position of outreach worker, the person hired for the job would be responsible for providing referrals to the task force's intervention team, with the goal of serving at-risk youth in gang-affected areas. The position would earn a salary of $30,000.
For the part-time violence interrupter, Patterson said that responsibilities would include being "on call" to intervene following an act of gang-related violence and attempting to prevent the conflict from escalating. The position would earn about half the salary of the outreach worker, Patterson said.
Some council members expressed concern regarding the job descriptions. Councilwoman Deborah Scott asked Patterson if information gathered by the workers would be shared with members of the Chattanooga Police Department.
Patterson said that information gathered by sources would have to be "navigated on a case-by-case basis" in order to maintain trust.
"They can't be seen as someone who is giving that information over to the police, so it's a tightrope to walk," he said. "So if your question is, are they out there to gather intel for the police, the answer is no. When it comes to violence, their job is to prevent that."
Councilman Manny Rico said he thought police should be informed anytime "someone is seen doing something wrong."
"You can't keep secrets from Chief Dodd, Hammond or anybody else," Rico said, referring to the Chattanooga chief of police and Hamilton County sheriff. "If this is about keeping it so you don't lose you're street credibility, I'm sorry, but I just don't see it."
Councilman Jack Benson countered Rico's argument, suggesting that the roles of the workers would be "like a priest in a confessional." Benson added that the city ought to follow proven methods employed by other cities similar to Patterson's proposal.
"What we're doing now is not succeeding," Benson said. "If we've found something other cities are doing and this is successful, I don't see any reason why we wouldn't move toward that."
The council will vote on the hires next week.
Council members were also presented with a summary of $5 million in realized cost reductions charted as a result of programs being offered from the city's wellness center and pharmacy. Council Chair Pam Ladd said the presentation showed members that they had made a good decision to approve the center and pharmacy program despite facing opposition when it was first proposed.
"We've got a program in place that has paid for this facility," she said. "You come in here, and you give us these results, you've validated that result for us, and I appreciate it."