Change Agents on a Mission
It is the end of 2017 and I am thankful for many things.
I am thankful for the more than 1,700 dedicated county employees who work hard, serve our citizens and make a difference in our community every day. I am thankful to the Board of Commissioners for their leadership, vision and strategic support that is helping create an environment for people and businesses to thrive. And I am thankful for the county’s many community partners and nonprofits that work tirelessly to create positive change in New Hanover County.
One community group that is creating change is the Criminal Justice Advisory Group (CJAG). They are working to free kids from gang life, addressing the opioid epidemic head-on, and helping to bring mental and physical wellness resources to schools.
CJAG was created in 2016 in response to community conversations and focus groups about public safety concerns. New Hanover County, in collaboration with the City of Wilmington, based our local CJAG on national best practices and local justice systems across the state.
The group is comprised of public safety community leaders from New Hanover County and City of Wilmington governments, including myself and the city manager, our Superior Court Judge, Chief District Court Judge, Sheriff, District Attorney, Public Defender, City of Wilmington Police Chief, Wrightsville Beach Police Chief, Kure Beach Police Chief, Carolina Beach Police Chief, Clerk of Superior Court, Trial Court Administrator, UNCW Police Chief, CFCC Police Chief, Judicial District Manager, Chief Court Counselor, and the county’s Community Justice Services Director and Adult Enhancement Services Manager.
This is an outstanding group of leaders with a strategic mission to transform public safety across all sectors of our community. They are change agents in our neighborhoods, schools, homes, and on our streets.
New Hanover County’s CJAG model creates a coordinated effort across all public safety entities to build a common community agenda, and set priorities to improve the overall effectiveness and efficiencies of criminal justice in our county. Those priorities are court efficiencies, gangs, opioids, sexual offenses, and youth crime and violence.
As a group, CJAG meets every other month, with smaller task groups meeting in between. Each task group is focused on a specific priority; and, while their work has just started, they have already made great strides in addressing local challenges.
In the courthouse, they are implementing LEAN efficiencies to make things fairer, faster, and more focused. They are also examining the citation process of local municipalities in hopes of encouraging more civil citations, when appropriate, which would keep people out of the courtroom.
The gangs task group is working on ways to enforce the probation of gang members so that there is less opportunity for them to assemble and recruit others. Their outside-of-the-box thinking has already been implemented with injunctions against verified gang members. As subject-matter experts, they are also compiling data on gang-related crimes to better understand the issue and the impacts.
To help combat the opioid epidemic, CJAG has worked with the county’s Communications and Outreach Department to launch a series of video Public Service Announcements to educate the community. They are also actively participating on SEAHEC’s Community Partners Coalition and Health Leadership Council to work in collaboration with other community stakeholders for better intervention and prevention of opioid abuse.
To make an impact on sexual offenses, the group is focusing on the need for intentional discussions with local students about crime related to sexual offenses. They are partnering with community agencies to understand what is currently being offered to local students, in order to ensure that children are aware of safe internet usage and to help create healthy, positive relationships.
The youth crime and violence task group is taking a new approach to handle crisis intervention more efficiently and successfully. They are working to provide all school personnel with youth mental health first aid training, which would help them intervene with behavioral issues and provide children with the resources and services they need early on.
Each of these priorities is a coordinated effort among the CJAG. While each priority focuses on different criminal justice challenges, they can’t be viewed as isolated issues. They have to be looked at collectively because they are inextricably interrelated.
And that is exactly what CJAG is doing. They are looking at public safety from every angle through a collective impact model. Through interagency cooperation, coordination, and planning, CJAG is making a significant difference in the community’s most pressing issues and, for that, I am grateful.
Thank you to our amazing leaders, incredible organizations, and dedicated citizens who make New Hanover County a place that we can all be proud of. Together, we can make a difference.