Gang Violence in Chattanooga

by Ryan Chalverus

In 2012, it was estimated that 870,000 people were involved in a gang in some way. There are about 27,000 gangs across the nation with the majority of these being in cities with a population greater than 100,000. Most homicides that are responded to in these cities are gang related homicides. 80% was reported to be gang related in 2012. 

One person who is directly involved with this issue on a more local level is Officer Ryan Baker, who works for the Chattanooga Police Department. Officer Baker has served as a police officer here in Chattanooga for over 4 years. Even before he worked as a police officer he has always had a love for serving his community. And the desire to serve in law enforcement began with his youth. “When I was in elementary school, you’re talking about the 80’s. There was no mentality of evil law enforcement. When you asked children what they wanted to do at that time it was always the police officer, fireman, and doctor. The school I went to then was half black and half white and you didn't have this schema of bad cops out to get us. So, when I was little it was that we should respect the law enforcement and to trust them.” 

Officer Baker has a very selfless personality. When he spoke he had passion behind each breath and word that came out of his mouth. Baker is rough from his past years in the Military and has been taught to serve the communities he lives in. 

Chattanooga revealed a growing problem with these violent acts as it continued to grow over the years. The Times Free Press explained that the police are going to be hard at work trying to move the police around to different spots so that the target areas of major Gang related crime would be suppressed. 

Officer Baker personally believes this Times Free Press article is very comedic. Officer Baker asked, “Let me ask you a question. If you have less officers than you did 10 years ago, and crime keeps increasing, and you do what they said to pull officers to these high crime areas, is it really increasing presence? These other bad places that are being left and not looked at will have more crime.

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Officer Ryan Baker is married to CCS Ceramics & Design Teacher Mia Baker.

I can tell you from experience that police work is very reactive. It is very difficult to be proactive because it takes so much money and resources to pull off. At the end of the day we want everyone to be protected, but we just respond to these things that happen. When a call happens, we get pulled from our spot to help out. Almost inevitably 50% of the time something will happen at my spot once I leave. If the city really wants to try and stop crime, they need to give more funding so that they can have a larger police force and pay better wages so that we can have more qualified police officers. It's a political thing. We always have less officers than we did the year before.” He heavily expressed that there were many underlying issues that were not thought of when this article was written. He thinks that it is not a good idea to pull more officers to these areas because many of these other places will not be watched and will have a spike in crime.

After being a Police Officer in Chattanooga for four years, he has a knowledge of the issues that the press doesn’t have. He felt as if the press was idiotic for writing about this because their solution would not solve this issue that they believed wasn’t complex. 

The real question is, how bad are these gangs in Chattanooga?  Many crimes are committed shortly after the police leave their patrol spot.  Officer Baker responded with “I don't have any statistics off the top of my head, but the majority of all violent crimes in Chattanooga are gang related. A lot of them stem or can be tied back to these gangs in Chattanooga. There are something like over 1000 different gangs in Chattanooga.”

The police have been using a three pillar approach to getting ahead of the gang violence. Focused deterrents target these groups of people that are causing all of the violence and offering assistance to the ones looking for a way out of the gangs.

The danger Officer Baker puts himself in is significant. He could very easily come across someone who is on drugs or having a mental episode, and they could try to attack him while he is responding. The biggest risk isn’t the physical one, it’s the political one.  Officer Baker states, “Obviously you have physical safety issues. The one we most worry about is the political risk. One bad decision and it could ruin your life. That's the biggest risk that is on the forefront of every officer's mind. I can't imagine your generation having any desire in law enforcement.” The politics that surround the work of being a police officer is very stressful, and is always a thought when responding to a call.

Officer Baker is completely right when he says that politics is the biggest risk they have to face when out on duty. Even before the death of George Floyd, there were many other unjust deaths that proved the police had some issues and needed to be held accountable for their actions toward the people in the community. 

There are moments in Officer Baker’s career where he feels like he has made a difference, and then there are times where he doesn’t. He says, “There are moments where you connect with someone on a one to one level. There are many times where I've felt like it was me in that situation and that I did make an impact on someone. But, I've also had situations where you arrest some dude who has 8 felonies and the court system kicks him out in 13 months and they go out and shoot people. At that point, I question what real impact I am really having here.”  This often frustrates him and makes him feel lost. He continued, “Sometimes you don't understand how impactful it is until later in life, and then sometimes you never do because it was such a small interaction. I just don't always get to see the fruit of those interactions come forward. Officers that are out here for 7-8 years know everyone and what they do because it's the same 60 people that are causing the problems. They fall into the cycle and it never ends.” 

Every year 600,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons. Then, there are another 9 million that cycle through local jails. More than two-thirds of prisoners are rearrested within 3 years of their release and half are reincarcerated. This creates a cycle of incarceration. This is a bad issue because 1 in 28 children have parents that are behind bars. This leads to these children seeking out other ways to find the mentorship and leadership in other places such as these gangs.

Officer Ryan Baker, a man who has served in the Chattanooga community for 4 years, has worked hard to keep the community safe. There is only so much one person can do in a community where there are over 1000 gangs, but he tries his best to make a positive impact by getting on a personal level with these gang members even though many of them show a “blind hatred” toward him. The problem of gang violence is an issue that will always exist, but the service workers in our community will try to improve the situation as best as possible.