Anti-violence efforts in Lakeland result in 93% fewer shootings

- Lakeland Police Chief Larry Giddens could not have imagined three years ago that an anti-violence march in the Jewell Ave. neighborhood would be highlighted by a 93 percent drop in citywide shootings.

"We have to remain vigilant," he said.

About 100 people marched down Memorial Blvd. as part victory rally, part keep-it-going rally.

"We are here to make sure we make a better place for the kids to be," said Marquis Roberts, who has a newborn son. "I have seen a difference."

In 2014, the city had 45 shootings. This year there were three. In 2014, 18 of Lakeland's 45 shootings were gang related. This year, zero.

And overall violence is down 25 percent year over year.

"We have like a tsunami here of people coming together," said Chief Larry Giddens.

Lakeland police say they've made several key arrests over the last several years. But there has been an effort among community groups to pass out supplies to the needy, to beautify the streets, and to hold frequent gatherings called "Family Fun Days" to sap bad guys of the hopelessness they need to attract kids to gangs and drugs.

"Everybody just spreading the word," said Pastor Walter Jenkins of the City of Refuge Church on W. 2nd Street. "I think some community people just got tired of what was going on in their community."

His church is starting a day camp for the summer months when teens find themselves without a place to go.
"[It's about] being involved in their lives," said Giddens. "If that's a school resource officer that takes an extra fifteen or 20 minutes to talk to a young man or young woman after school, that is where the difference is being made."

17-year-old Darielle Brisbane, like the police department, cautions that not all is solved. She says far too many of her friends are still pulled by negative influences.

"I feel bad for them because I know they can amount to much better than dealing with that kind of stuff, and it makes me sad because most of my friends deal with that," she said.

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