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Finally, Gulfport's police chief has a plan to combat the city's 'criminal subculture'

Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania, left, talks to the City Council about his proposal to tackle the city's "criminal subculture." Seated on the front row are Dep. Cmdr. Adam Cooper and District Attorney Joel Smith. Representatives of Climb CDC, a workforce training program that would be part of the solution, are in the second row.
Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania, left, talks to the City Council about his proposal to tackle the city's "criminal subculture." Seated on the front row are Dep. Cmdr. Adam Cooper and District Attorney Joel Smith. Representatives of Climb CDC, a workforce training program that would be part of the solution, are in the second row.

Leonard Papania has been talking for his five years as police chief about the violence that springs from the city's "criminal subculture," but now has a plan to tackle it..

Papania and two of his officers visited Boston and Springfield, Massachusetts, where for every $1 invested in preventing violence has shown a return of $7 in terms of costs for jail, law enforcement and other expenses crime generates.

Residents see it daily: violence, families struck by grief, crime scenes.

Papania said he's constantly getting a microphone shoved in his face with the question, "Chief, what are you going to do about the violence in Gulfport?"

"I have long said it's not a 'what am I going to do' solution. We can't police ourselves out of youth violence.

"The question is what can we do as a community to solve our issues in our community?"

Papania said 14- to 24-year-old males start most of the violence in the community. He knows these repeat offenders by name, as does District Attorney Joel Smith, who sat in the front row of the city council meeting as Papania explained his proposal.

"Who in this group is most likely to pull the trigger or get hit by a bullet?" Papania asked. "That's who we want to go after."

In Massachusetts, the program is called "Less Jail, More Future," and its run by a nonprofit. Police identify the repeat offenders.

Outreach workers for the nonprofit then visit these young people, repeatedly knocking on their doors if necessary, until they can enlist them in a two-year program.

Their needs are identified. They are taught job skills and given training.

Papania wants to partner with Climb CDC, a group that is already working to help young people through job training and in other areas. The University of Southern Mississippi's social work program also is being enlisted.

City Council members mentioned, and Papania is well aware, that mental-health services and addiction treatment would need to be components of any successful program targeting young offenders. He doesn't have all the answers, he said, but he believes his proposal is a promising start.

Papania said the next step will be for Climb management to visit the programs in Massachusetts. Papania said he's nearing the end of his career, but he plans to persevere with getting this program started.

"I can't walk away from this," he said.

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