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Group Tackles Youth Violence in Hillsborough

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Robin Sussingham
Kevin Beckner is Chair of Safe and Sound

With a message that neighborhood violence won't be solved by law enforcement or government agencies alone -- a group called "Safe and Sound Hillsborough" today said it wants to galvanize the community to respond.

Speaking at the Grant Park Community Center in East Tampa, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner referenced a 14-year-old boy killed recently, possibly for giving information to police, and said it's urgent that youth violence be addressed.

"The Hillsborough County Sheriff's office and the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City are tracking twice as many homicides this year as in 2014," Beckner said.

Coordinator Freddy Barton says the group's aim is to prevent violence before it starts by reaching out to local teens and finding ways to counteract the "no snitch" culture.

"The time is now," Barton said. "Our leadership council is comprised of policy makers, of concerned citizens, of business owners, of organization all throughout the county. So we don't lose another life."

Barton said the City of Tampa this summer kept some parks open late at night so inner city youths would have a safe place to go. He said they asked the teens what they wanted from the summer program....and it wasn't just sports.

"To our surprise, it wasn't 'I want to play basketball until midnight," Barton recounted. "The answers were, 'I don't want to hear gunshots. I don't want to have access to guns'."

The "Safe and Sound" group will be putting on a violence prevention conference in the spring. They're also identifying the most dangerous neighborhoods and will provide them grant money for programming.