As community leaders advance toward developing strategies to address crimes committed by young folks, Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch said Tuesday they are drawing closer to forging “actionable steps.”
“We don’t have the answer," Klipsch said, "but we will give you the commitment."
For months, the mayor has held public and private meetings with hundreds of community leaders to discuss potential solutions for what’s become a growing concern across the Quad-Cities. Speaking to a crowd of about 75 people in Davenport’s RiverCenter, the mayor said the next step in the process will involve a two-day sit-down with state, city and county officials and community organizers to review what’s been learned.
“We want a good set of cross section folks that are there to come together and now get serious,” the mayor said, adding that “vision without action is just daydream.”
The development comes three months after the mayor first announced an initiative to address what city leaders have referred to as a growing “criminal subculture” across the region. Since January, the city has seen three teenagers killed by gun violence, including Jovontia “Jovi” Jones, a 16-year-old who was fatally shot in broad daylight this May. Klipsch has called the teenager’s death “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” pointing to his killing as a rallying cry for city leaders to find ways to address the underlying needs of the community.
Another concern raised in recent months is a surge in car thefts, a crime Davenport police say is often perpetrated by young people who view the act as a game. Some juveniles have become habitual offenders, sometimes using stolen vehicles to commit more serious crimes.
On Tuesday, the 90-minute presentation by Klipsch and others involved focused on some of the findings compiled by the American Institutes for Research, a not-for-profit that specializes in social science and behavioral studies. Among the issues identified were a distrust of law enforcement, few activities for youngsters to fill their time, a need for positive role models, and a so-called risk-taking culture of fearlessness and defiance to authority.
From the RiverCenter stage, several local leaders recounted conversations they’ve had with troubled young people to demonstrate the problems some kids face today. Common themes included severe poverty, absent parents and guardians and few options for jobs or activities outside of school.
Farrah Roberts, a mental health coordinator with the Davenport School District, said when students face poverty, homelessness and a lack of mental health services, those issues “contribute to academic challenges.” She noted that the district saw 241 students drop out of school last year.
“We know when students aren’t in school and they’re on the street, that’s when things can happen,” Roberts said.
Also presenting at the forum was Brittany Beard, who shared her firsthand experiences. Beard said she spent much of her younger years angry and hopeless, bouncing from home to home, living in an environment filled with poverty, drugs and violence.
Now, Beard works for the Eastern Iowa Community Colleges system through a student support services program. She pointed to her church, foster parents, mentors and schoolteachers as being influential forces that helped her move past a trying period of life.
“As a child I was exposed to a lot of chaos, violence and drugs like a lot of our youth are today. But at the same time I also had that support. I had that love, the encouragement, positivity, the grace that was extended to me,” she said. “I realize (that) suffering through my past I gained the support I needed that ultimately was there all along.”
City leaders are expected to issue a public report soon on the findings from the mayor's discussions and forums gathered earlier this summer. The city plans to use that report as a launching pad for specific actions.