Uptick in youth violence due to unorthodox "neighborhood gangs," says TPD

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Tallahassee By Katie Kaplan, WCTV Eyewitness
November 26th, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV)-- Over the past two weeks alone, WCTV has covered several acts of violence in Tallahassee that law enforcement said is connected to teenagers.

They include:
-Nov. 11: A 16-year-old charged for a drive-by shooting
-Nov. 17th: A 16-year-old shot and killed near the fair; A second juvenile was also injured
-Nov. 21: A 15-year-old Ghazvini student arrested for soliciting murder
-Nov. 25: A minor shot and seriously injured on Apalachee Parkway

It is a trend that police said has ebbed and flowed over the years in Tallahasse, but the community wants to end it now- once and for all.

"If we could just get the young folks to come together," said Tiffany Zachery through tears last week.

She is the latest mourning mother to lose her teenager to gun violence. Her 16-year-old son, Amarion James, died while walking to a McDonalds on East Paul Russell Road. She was on her way to pick him up after closing night at the North Florida Fair.

"There's been a spate of them that has just occured," Major Jason Laursen of the Tallahassee Police Department told WCTV's Katie Kaplan about the shootings.

Laursen said the uptick in youth violence is due to unorthodox "neighborhood gangs."

"We have more pre-teens to early 20s-groups that are geographically based and they sometimes have interactions with other groups that are not in that geography," he explained.

Those interactions can lead to physical fights, shootings and even retaliatory shootings, he said. He added that it is a theme that has been nearly constant since a teen boy was shot and killed outside the Regal Movie Theater in September, but it is a trend that Dr. Kimball Thomas said was not created overnight.

"There are over 7,000 disconnected youth in this municipality alone," said Thomas.

He is the Director of Community Services for the City of Tallahassee and runs the city's TEMPO Program, which tries to reach those disconnected youth who are categorized as people ages 16-24, who are not in school and are not employed.

"What we have so far with this program (is that) when we do outreach, we see the effectiveness of it," he said.

Laursen said that demographic is invovled in most of the youth-based crimes. The culprits are commonly in possesion of guns they have purchased on the street and that are often stolen out of unlocked cars.

"Investigatively, we are working 24-hours a day to try and solve these crimes and find the people responsible and take them into custody, but we are working with community partners, both faith-based and non-faith based, to try to quell some of the violence," said Laursen.

Pastor Rudy Ferguson of New Birth Tabernacle is one of the faith-based leaders working with TPD. Over the phone he called the recent violence a "wake-up call" and said he hopes to to establish a "consistent" solution. He said he met with the department Tuesday morning to gather ideas and plans to hold a large meeting with parents and "inner-city" kids after the holidays to hear their input.

As for concerned parents, Laursen said they should keep in mind that officers are not always there to make an arrest and that they can "help out with problem children."

"We don't always take a traditional law enforcement role. We can go out and talk to the kids," he said. "If you something in their room, if you find some behavior or if they have money all of a sudden that they shouldn't have or they've got certain items that they shouldn't have, parents know. Let us know."

For more information on the TEMPO Program, click here.