EVANSVILLE — No single crime spurred the community forum held Thursday evening, but its focus did center on recent violence and death in the city.
"It's just been a culmination of things that's been going on in our community," the Rev. William Payne said. "It was a session to hear what some of the people's concerns were to help us put together some sort of understanding of where our needs are needing to be met."
Payne, the executive director of Brothers Out Saving Souls, was one of the community representatives helping to facilitate the forum.
To him, the evening was a good start to a conversation expected to have multiple parts. This was the first community forum with another scheduled to take place next month.
Community members were able to voice their thoughts about problems within Evansville and provide solutions they found applicable.
Payne said many of the issues brought up were what they expected to hear. Gun violence, drugs and a lack of positive role models for young people in the community were consistent points of discussion.
One point that did surprise Payne was the suggestion of stricter penalties.
"I understand some people have personal opinions about that, but I think that lock them up and throw them away is not the answer," he said. "I think that's one thing that caught everyone off guard."
At the end of the evening, the points brought up from community members had been split into three main reoccurring categories: family management, citywide crime and school transparency.
1. Family Management
With much of the focus remaining on creating a safe environment for youth who are growing up in the Evansville community, family was a much-discussed topic of the evening.
Role models, whether through family or community organizations, were deemed necessary to help young community members stay on a good path. This trickled down into parental accountability and individualized self-respect as kids grow up.
But family management also hit larger issues for the community members. It meant keeping housing both available and affordable within the city.
Family management also encompassed solutions of faith, with churches being more prevalent and looking closer at what sort of entertainment youth are consuming.
2. City-wide crime
The crime discussion focused heavily on guns and drugs. The consensus of the group was that it is too easy to purchase or get a gun in the city.
2017 saw a historically high number of murders and eight people died in fatal shootings during the last three months. At least 19 murders occurred during the year with at least six other deaths ruled as homicides.
Drugs were one of the major issues brought up during the evening, and suggested solutions included stricter penalties and a larger focus on treatment for addiction.
With the crime discussion, law enforcement was broached as well. One member of the crowd expressed interest in more "boots on the ground." Rather than police officers driving through neighborhoods, he wanted to see officers out of their vehicles interacting with the area and the people who live there.
Others in the crowd said no one better polices a community than it's own members. This included keeping an eye out for activity that is deemed dangerous or unsafe and reporting when crime does occur.
Diversity training for police officers was suggested as well. The training would be to help officers work with community members who have mental health issues or those with special needs.
3. School transparency
Since youth was a major part of the conversation, so was the city's education system.
Some issues were with the distribution of resources and a lack of communication with parents and family members within the schools. It was suggested schools use social media and other forms of communication to make sure people know about after-school programs and other opportunities kids may overlook.
Parents in the crowd also want it to be easier to know how their student is doing. If there are issues, whether small or more serious, parents want open communication with staff.
It was also suggested more psychological options be available to the youth. For students who may need to talk through issues, it was suggested more counselors or people with those qualifications be provided.
All of this was spurred by the idea of juvenile intervention. Starting students on a strong path when they are in elementary and middle school rather than waiting until high school to curb behavior that may have started.
The school conversation included setting students up to be productive members of the workforce by providing them with strong role models of professionals within their own community and connections to higher education.
Many of the solutions included community participation through groups and programming. Payne said obtaining and maintaining resources in the community will be what can help move toward a better situation.
"I think everything that went up was a good piece of the puzzle that needed to be had," he said. "For me I'm just big on our resources in our community."
His organization, BOSS, is non-profit which focuses on youth through mentor programs, athletics and community outreach.
"We try and reach people where they are," he said. "Our ministry is in the street."
Two other community groups also assisted in the organization of the event with BOSS, 4th ward city councilwoman Connie Robinson and the Revs. Adrian Brooks and Rabon Turner.
Mothers Against Senseless Killing is an organization focused on youth and discouraging violence within the community. The other group represented was the Coalition of Inner City Neighborhoods.
The next forum is at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 1 at Memorial Baptist Church. Payne said he encourages those who did not attend the first forum to come join the discussion and those who did to continue to watch it grow.
The plan is to have a couple more forums before presenting the ideas to the city officials including Mayor Lloyd Winnecke and Chief of Police Billy Bolin.
"I think we'll take it to the leadership of Evansville and say this is what we as a community think we need to address," Payne said. "I think that's big because we have to come up with what we need. You can't tell us what we need if you don't live in our community."