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Council talks youth violence

City: Parents, participation are vital

Suffolk officials have taken some steps to respond to a rash of youth violence, but the real work needs to be done by parents, City Council members say.

City Council discussed the problem of youth violence — and the city’s efforts to curb it — during its meeting last week, concluding, among other things, that no amount of programs can substitute for parents who raise their children well.

“I see no weaknesses in the program,” Councilman Charles Brown said of the city’s youth opportunities. “The only weaknesses I see are in those not taking advantage of the program.”

Police Chief Thomas Bennett and Parks and Recreation director Lakita Frazier outlined their departments’ efforts during the last few years to reach young people.

Bennett boasted of the city’s youth public safety academy, which teaches at-risk youth about law enforcement and fire careers; a youth task force, which includes representatives from several different areas and meets monthly to discuss individuals and gangs; town hall meetings coordinated through the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office; and more than 135 civic league and community meetings during the past two years to increase gang awareness, among other efforts.

Frazier brought up the Suffolk Office on Youth, the new position of youth services coordinator, the youth feeding program, Youth Advisory Council and the Summer Work Success Program, among other accomplishments.

Among all the programs and services, though, City Council members repeated that children have to be encouraged to take advantage of the services for them to be effective.

“We need to take away some of these excuses,” Councilman Leroy Bennett said. “Recreation is here. That will take that excuse away from them.”

Attendees at one recent meeting complained that city recreation centers are not open late enough, but council members insisted that participation does not warrant extra hours.

“If you’ve got the facility open and there’s only three people there, it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Councilman Charles Parr said.

Bennett said the city welcomes outside organizations supplementing the city’s youth services, as long as they are coordinated through the Suffolk Office on Youth so that nobody wastes critical resources.

“We look forward to that,” he said. “We welcome that.”

Vice Mayor Curtis Milteer went to the Holy Bible for help in responding to the situation, also stressing the need for involvement by faith-based organizations.

“Parents need to teach children how to respect others and love others,” he said. “A skating rink is good, but it won’t do it.”

Alluding to 2 Chronicles 7:14, Milteer added that if people call on God, “He will heal the land.”