Weeks after rejecting a youth curfew ordinance, the Fayetteville City Council is considering a program to reduce youth crime, with a particular focus on the cost of gun violence.
At Councilman Mario Benavente's request at Monday’s work session, the council moved to direct staff to explore opportunities for a youth de-escalation program focusing on conflict resolution skills in children and teenagers. The initiative would focus on seeking collaborations with community partners already engaged in assisting affected youth.
Benavente said the programming would ideally be implemented at three recreation centers within a one-mile radius identified by the Fayetteville Police Department as an area of gun-violence hotspots: Smith Recreation Center, Cliffdale Recreation Center and Massey Hill Recreation Center.
“When I talk with young people at these rec centers, they really are asking for this,” Benavente said. “They are saying that the difference in what escalates into gun violence really is giving them the tools it takes to resolve conflict amongst themselves.”
The potential program could also involve designating a recreation staff member to help youth at the centers build conflict resolution skills, Benavente said. He gave an example of one de-escalation program, Coaching Boys into Men, that could be a roadmap for this kind of program in Fayetteville.
“It's the only evidence-based violence prevention program that trains and motivates high school coaches to teach their young male athletes in healthy relationship skills, mental practices, and that violence never equals strength,” Benavente said.
Council members were generally supportive of a youth de-escalation program, though some indicated that they would like for the city to partner with other organizations and use existing grant funds for this purpose.
Councilwoman Shakeyla Ingram said the council should look into partnering with the social work program at Fayetteville State University, pointing to the potential of existing resources to help with the initiative.
“I'm a firm believer that we have to kind of use what's in our backyard,” she said.
Councilwoman Kathy Jensen said she supported the program, but wanted to make sure it targeted young women, in addition to young men.
Benavente said he supported a multi-gender program, as well as looking into partnerships with FSU or other community organizations.
Councilman Deno Hondros said a conflict resolution program could go a long way in combating the youth gun violence epidemic in Fayetteville.
“I think it's an unfortunate truth that we are where we are,” Hondros said of the city’s gun violence. “The youth is where it is today, where conflict resolution is not one of their strong suits … We have to invest in our youth — the youth is our future. And if we don’t invest in the youth, what are we investing in?”
Following the council’s direction, staff will now look for opportunities for the city to go about supporting a youth de-escalation initiative.
Contact Evey Weisblat at email@example.com or 216-527-3608.