VIP comes back to Youngstown

YOUNGSTOWN – The city is bringing back its Violence Interruption Patrols this year with a little help from its friends.

Thirteen of them.

The program, which looks for guns and aims to stop problems before they start, will have help from 13 different agencies when it begins in earnest this weekend.

Police Chief Rod Foley said that is the most help the department has ever received in running offshoots of the popular anti-crime program which first began in 2003.

Demaine Kitchen, chief of staff for Mayor Charles Sammarone, said at a news conference to kick off the program that officers will be using information and intelligence gathered by the police department to determine where to put the extra patrols that will be on the streets.

”Everything we do is data driven,” Kitchen said.

Foley said the primary focus is to target gun crimes and people who carry guns illegally. He said police want to send a message to anyone who would be carrying a gun but shouldn’t that extra officers will be assigned to look just for them.

Foley also said he was excited the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office is taking part this year for the first time. A big help, he said, is the recent opening of the full jail by Sheriff Jerry Greene, which will allow for more people to be taken off the streets.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dave Toepher said his office will also be in close contact with county and city prosecutors to decide where it would be best to charge a person arrested in order to ensure the longest possible sentence.

Toepher said his office will primarily prosecute drug and firearms offenses.

Several representatives of the city’s faith based community were on hand as well. The Rev. Lewis Macklin, head of the Youngstown Interdemoninational Alliance, said churches will organize activities to keep young people out of trouble.

By the time the city launched the program last year, it had already recorded 14 homicides. It ended 2012 with 26 homicides, and possibly one more after a man’s body was found on the East Side in February who had been reported missing in November.

So far in 2013, the city has recorded three homicides.

Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains said in his all his years in law enforcement he has never seen a bigger crime-fighting coalition than the one assembled to conduct the VIP patrols.

”We are together,” Gains said. ”We are united in riding this community of these violent criminals.”

The program runs through the Labor Day weekend.