LAKELAND, Fla. (WTSP) -- Police say the streets of Lakeland are safer now than they were just a few years ago. Violent crime is at a three-year low.
With that decrease, police have also seen a big drop in gang-related shootings.
The city of Lakeland had 45 shootings in 2014. Eighteen of them were gang-related. In 2016, the city had 18 shootings, and only one of them was gang-related.
“We solved it, because the community said enough is enough,” Chief Larry Giddens said.
One thing Giddens said has helped is what they do with School Resource Officers during the summer time. They're obviously not in the classrooms. Instead, they're out on the streets interacting with people in areas with higher crime rates.
“All of our officers are usually familiar with the folks that are in their neighborhoods, because of the community policing approach that we use, but nothing intimately like our SROs know these kids,” he explained.
On top of that, the department really started keeping track of gang violence. Gang members get more severe charges.
“We want to make it clear that that gang life is not productive,” Giddens said.
With the help of the city council's gang task force and local churches, the police department also started participating in neighborhood clean ups.
“If they walk down an alley and they feel safer because it's cleaner, because the brush is cut back, and they can see that house and they're waving at neighbors, it builds community,” Mike Cooper, who runs the Dream Center of Lakeland, said.
Over time, Cooper explained, people notice the work you're doing.
“You just can't come into the community and say, 'hey, we're here.' You earn the right to be here. This is their community,” Cooper said.
Everyone's happy with the progress so far, but there's still work to do.
“We can't sit back. We can do better,” Giddens said. “We had one gang-involved shooting; that was one too many.”
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