By Morgan Bryce
Representatives from the city of Opelika provided updates on the Commission on Crime and Violence in a press conference last Thursday morning.
Following a rash of crime and violence last summer, Mayor Gary Fuller said he knew it was the right timing for the city to start brainstorming solutions to combat those problems.
“There were a couple of homicides in a very short time frame and all of us were very concerned. We talked about what we could do that would be different from what we’ve done in the past,” Fuller said. “And ultimately, those conversations led us to creating this commission.”
Fuller serves as the commission’s head, and under him are four sub-committees, chaired by four city officials: Education (Ward 1 Councilwoman Patsy Jones), Family (Opelika Police Department Chief John McEachern), Resources (City Council President Eddie Smith) and Youth (Ward 2 Councilwoman Tiffany Gibson-Pitts).
Each committee head shared their group’s respective goals, tasks and what they hoped to accomplish.
Praising Opelika’s City Schools systems, Jones said she and her committee will work to maintain that standard of educational excellence and work to extend preschool access and availability to families.
“We are excited to be a part of this group and of course, our purpose is to continue to support the Opelika City Schools. And we thought one of the most proactive ways is to include preschool,” Jones said. “Statistics are there that will support that data that when children are able to have the privilege of being able to attend pre-K, there (is less discipline needed) and afford them the opportunity to do things differently.”
Observing the numbers of children that come from broken homes, McEachern said some of his committee’s primary goals are to help strengthen each unique family unit and create a stronger sense of community citywide through events, neighborhood initiatives and engagement in the large number of churches across the city.
“In summary, we’re hoping to come up with a common unity or a thread that keeps or binds us all together. In order to do that, we’ll be drawing upon a number of different resources locally that we do have available,” McEachern.
Smith’s committee is primarily concerned with engaging and seeking out grant funding for initiatives or projects under the commission’s umbrella. They also hope to create a student-job program for students who live and attend Opelika City Schools to learn and improve their interviewing, resume writing and overall job skills. Applications for the program can be found at www.opelika-al.gov.
Through her committee’s work, Gibson-Pitts said she hopes to engage the city’s youth and help them find a voice. Short-term goals include the formation of youth employment fairs as well as a teen planning board and police academy. In the long term, she added that she wants to create an Opelika youth activity and resources website along with improving the relationship between youth and members of the Opelika Police Department.
While some of these goals may be tangible or intangible, Fuller acknowledged that his commission’s goals will take time to achieve. However, he said he believes that its work will leave a lasting impact on the city for decades to come.
“We’re better today than we were a year ago, and we’ll be better a year or five years from now. However, we can’t rest on our laurels … we’re going to have to keep working at this,” Fuller said. “Maybe we’ll reach a point one day where it’s not as intense or urgent as it is today, but we can’t predict when that will be. I anticipate us continuing to be vigilant and to continue working to become better as a city.”