July 16, 2009
More than 30 representatives of philanthropy, nonprofits, government, education and law enforcement gathered in Tampa on July 16, 2009, in an FPN co-sponsored convening to engage in a cross-sector discussion on how to create effective youth gang prevention and intervention strategies in Hillsborough County. Florida Philanthropic Network co-sponsored the pilot convening with the Florida Office of the Attorney General, which has placed a high priority on youth gang prevention, and the David C. Anchin Center at the University of South Florida, which has previously engaged local community leaders on the issue.
In welcoming participants to the convening, which was held at the Anchin Center in Tampa, FPN President Katie Ensign spoke of the importance of public-private partnerships to solve the many deep-rooted issues in our communities, such as youth gangs. "The only way we can solve these problems, particularly in today's difficult economic times, is to work together," Ensign said.
Dr. Bruce Anthony Jones, Director of the David C. Anchin Center, echoed Ensign's message that institutions need to work collectively - across multiple sectors - to find solutions to the gang problem. He noted that the gathering represented a "significant step in the solution direction."
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum kicked off the convening by stressing the need for "preventative strategies" as a way to more effectively deal with the growing gang crisis in Florida. He noted that Florida is the fastest-growing gang state in the country, with an estimated 1,500 gangs and about 60,000-70,000 members. In Hillsborough County there are 177 documented gangs with more than 4,200 members, according to convening participant Sgt. Howard Wooden of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Wooden noted that these gangs are responsible for 60 percent of the county's violent crime.
The Attorney General described the three-pronged strategy for gang reduction - prevention/intervention, law enforcement and rehabilitation/re-entry - and explained the statewide coordinating council he has established to oversee seven regional gang reduction task forces. He applauded participants in the convening for their willingness to participate in the pilot effort to bring together people in specific region - in this case Hillsborough County - from across all sectors to explore ways to address this serious community issue.
Convening participants identified several possible strategies for future collaboration. For example, representatives from the school district and law enforcement talked about overlaying the geographic territories of the county's gangs with the location of the district's schools, to determine some of the top trouble spots and thus allow the school district to adopt new strategies as necessary. After identifying the top-priority geographic areas for gang problems in the county, participants discussed the importance of bringing together community members in those areas, in a neutral setting, and providing them with the appropriate information, tools and resources to determine how they want to address the problem in their community. Local foundations could provide information and knowledge from their grantmaking work about some of the most effective and proven programs that communities might want to consider using to help reduce gang activity, tailored to the specific needs of each community.
The idea for the convening came about as a result of FPN's Statewide Summit on Philanthropy held in January 2009. FPN members participating in the convening included representatives from Bank of America, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, the Conn Memorial Foundation and the Eckerd Family Foundation.