Aiken plans program that could drastically reduce violent crime

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News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012

HIGH POINT, N.C. -- The streets of High Point, North Carolina are quieter and more peaceful now, but they weren't always that way.

"Back then, you would not have wanted to walk out here and do this interview. As a matter of fact, it might have been darn near impossible," said Rev. Jim Summey, who's originally from an area outside the city, but he lives in High Point now.

Summey became minister of the English Road Baptist Church in 1992 in an area of the city known as the West End, the very epicenter of the city's crime.

"In 1992, this area right here and right behind me was crawling with a lot of activity," he said.

He says Washington Street in High Point was once the heroin capital of North Carolina. Gun violence and drugs permeated through most of the city. Some streets were lined with so many johns and prostitutes, that it was hard to maneuver a car down them.

"Well, some of the actions I took was just personally going out on the street and confronting the drug dealers and the prostitutes by myself, and when you really think about it, it was pretty stupid," Summey said.

The windows of his church were shot out. Many of his parishioners were afraid to come to church. Meanwhile, police action was failing.

"And, you know, the police did all those things that police departments do: drug stings, prostitution stings, John work, everything you can think of. They were doing everything right. Working hard. It was just not effective," he said.

In 2003, he challenged the police chief at that time to make a change.

What High Point Police Department adopted was an intervention program thought up by a Harvard researcher. It's a program where problem areas like the West End are identified. Repeat gun and drug offenders are called in to a special meeting.

"They get that letter, and they just have to come. Even though they don't want to come and they think this is bull crap or whatever, but they come to that meeting, and you confront them. You say, 'We're sick and tired of you selling this junk -- this poison to our kids and people -- and poisoning these girls whose bodies are ravaged, and they're addicted to your junk,'" Summey told News 12.

It's a time where the community offers help, but offenders are left with a biting message: get straight or go straight to prison.

Summey remembers the day after the West End's first call-in -- May 19, 2004.

"You would think that it was high noon and that the two big guns were going to walk out and everybody was clearing the streets, so they didn't get shot either, and I started getting out of my office. I rode all over this place all day long. Nothing," he said, adding that the peace on the streets has remained to this day.

High Point's violent crime ultimately went down by 57 percent over a five-year period.

Now, Aiken officers and community members are there to learn and see if the same program will work back home.

"It will work. It has never failed. If you do it the right way, it has never failed," Summey said, adding that it should work particularly well in Aiken.

Summey is now part of the process there in High Point.

He gave up preaching to help offenders find jobs and better their lives as the executive director of the High Point Community Against Violence. He says even though he's no longer preaching, he does his work from a different pulpit now.

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