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'This is a marathon, not a sprint': City's violence prevention director outlines goals

It’s the first of its kind in the state and will operate as a clearinghouse for data to help understand what works and what doesn’t work to curb violence.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The recent shootings in the Short North neighborhood of Columbus are examples of violent crime that the Office of Violent Prevention is trying to solve.

It’s the first of its kind in the state and will operate as a clearinghouse for local and national data to help understand what works and what doesn’t work to curb violent crime.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint. This is a huge problem that everybody wants to fix,” said Director Rena Shak.

She said the office is still working to hire people, including an epidemiologist who will analyze crime data to see what is working in the city and what isn’t.

Currently, the city has 16 anti-violence programs aimed and steering children away from crime.

How many of them work? How many need more resources? How many should be removed? These are questions the Office of Violence Prevention will look at as well as meeting with community leaders to help better understand what certain communities need in terms of anti-violence programming.

“This isn’t a one-department problem to fix. This is a community problem to fix. This is a religious institution problem to fix. This is a city problem to fix. This is a government problem to fix, everybody needs to have a voice at the table,” Shak said.

When asked if that means adding more policing to neighborhoods or adding more crime cameras, she said the solutions aren’t that simple. She says the city needs to look at the data to see what works.

As for those who commit violent crimes in our city, Shak says the answer is complex.

“I think the trauma of being exposed to gunshots in your neighborhood every day of your life definitely falls under the category of mental illness that could cause some of these drivers,” she said.

The city has attempted to curb gun violence by passing an ordinance on the safe storage of guns and holding parents accountable. That is now on hold after questions were raised about its legality.

Shak blames Ohio gun laws passed by the state legislature as one reason why gun crimes are going up.

“I have seen a huge uptick in our city because gun laws have been relaxed, and cities like Columbus are left to clean up to clean up the mess,” she said.

Another concern related to gun violence in the city has to deal with youth crimes and some believe the courts are doing enough to punish children who commit crimes with a firearm.

Shak said her office wants to bring the voices of judges to the table as well to see what more can be done.

“I can’t speak whether or not the judges need reformed, but what I can say is that conversations are happening and I think everybody is listening and learning,” she says.

You can read more about how other cities have developed Office of Violent Prevention Offices here.

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