With gun violence on the rise, Antioch police to get federal help

ANTIOCH — Facing a 40% surge in gun violence so far this year, Antioch city officials announced this week that the police department will be working with the U.S. Department of Justice in an effort to reverse that trend.

Employees of the the federal agency will examine how the police department has been tackling crime and suggest ways it might do so more effectively, according to the city.

At a news conference Thursday, Mayor Lamar Thorpe said the partnership with the Department of Justice is part of the city’s police reform initiative.

“We’re not taking our foot off the pedal,” Thorpe said, noting the city instituted some of the biggest police department changes in its history earlier this year. “We’re going to continue with these … efforts as long as I am the mayor,” he added.

Although the number of so-called Part 1 crimes such as arson, robberies and burglaries dropped the first nine months of this year compared to the same period in 2020, homicides rose from seven to eight and aggravated assaults — most of which involved shootings — jumped a whopping 39.8%, from 264 to 369.

Gun violence incidents have been rising for more than a year, Interim Police Chief Tony Morefield said after the news conference.

Morefield said he he applied last year to join the National Public Safety Partnership, a Department of Justice project that gives participating police departments training and other forms of help tailored to their specific needs.

Antioch is one of 10 cities across the country chosen this year to get that help. Federal funding won’t be part of the assistance, but Morefield said at some point the city might apply for a grant.

The police department and the Department of Justice will kick off their three-year partnership early next month, when Morefield expects to meet with federal officials including a group of four assigned “site specialists.”

Specifics have yet to be hammered out, but over the ensuing months the federal agency will examine the police department’s policies and procedures and identify aspects of gun violence that pertain specifically to the city.

The federal agency also will show the city how it can collaborate more effectively with groups working toward the same goals, Morefield said.

“The community is part of the solution,” he said. “I just think that’s so important.”

The feds also will analyze the police department’s technological  means for fighting gun violence, Morefield said.

Training is another part of the package: The police department has asked for help teaching officers the best ways to deescalate tense encounters instead of using physical force, intervene in crises brought about by mental illness, and resolve conflicts such as domestic violence.

The Department of Justice will share other cities’ best practices and help Antioch decide which of those would be best suited for its police force.

“We’re tapping into this huge knowledge base — what (the feds) have learned through those cities,” Morefield said.


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Author: Rowena Gonden