LEON COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) — "A holistic approach dealing with these issues that's perhaps different from anything we've ever done before in Leon County, now I'm not going to tell you that this is going to be easy,"
That's what Leon County Sheriff, Walt McNeil, said at Tuesday night's Leon County School Board meeting. The Leon County Sheriff's Office is asking Leon County Schools to partner with them to help reduce violence in our community.
As crime rates rise among young Black men across Leon County, the Sheriff's office is getting the county, city, and school board to band together to address the issue.
Identifying young people at risk of being involved in criminal activity; that's just one of the many solutions they will have to help eliminate crime among our youth in the community.
"Look at this as a health problem more than we look at it as a crime problem I think if we do that we're going to get some different diagnosis as it relates to the problems," added McNeil.
The majority of homicide offenders and victims in Leon County are young Black men between the ages of 15 to 24. That's according to a report called "Anatomy of a Homicide" which was conducted by the Leon County Sheriff's Office between 2015 to 2020.
"What is the cause and the root of this uptick in violence that we're seeing especially gun violence," asked Rocky Hanna, the Superintendent of Leon County Schools.
The report found 85 percent of homicide offenders were suspended from school or expelled, and 52 percent attended an alternative school. Half of the offenders committed their first crime before 12 years old. None had graduated college.
"If we can get to our kids sooner rather than later get them on a track get them excited about coming to school because they like to do shop, more hands-on things like carpentry or HVAC and then they can actually get an industry certification in the trades," said Leon County School Board Member, DeeDee Rasmussen.
To address the problem, the Leon County Sheriff's Office is getting the community together with the help of Leon County Schools. The plan is to develop a coalition made up of educators, social workers, mental health experts, and more.
McNeil added, "multi-disciplines all working together and sharing information about specific people and the biggest part of this is the communication that needs to take place in all of the various silos that exist in our community."
This coalition will identify students that are homeless, facing mental health issues, and trauma.
"It's all of us working together to listen to our children to find out exactly what is at the root of these problems and then to find solutions," exclaimed Hanna.
The county, city, and school board are also going to be teaming up with Florida State University to look at interventions to help address all social issues that at-risk individuals might be facing.
The coalition will also look at the specific needs of students and families living in the 32304 zip code which was identified in the report as having the highest homicide rate in the county.