By Tamas Mondovics

Local leaders and community members came together last month to unveil a long-term plan to prevent violence in Hillsborough County and to explain what they believe it takes to make the community a safer place in which to live.

The event, held at George Edgecomb Courthouse in Tampa, gave opportunity for representatives of the Violence Prevention Collaborative (VPC), a body formed by the Board of County Commissioners, to discuss their work over the past year including preliminary results of a survey of more than 3,500 young people in Hillsborough County between the ages of 14-19.

VPC chair, County Commissioner Kevin Beckner spoke highly of the plan dubbed Safe & Sound Hillsborough, which is supported by representatives from Tampa, Plant City, Temple Terrace, Hillsborough County Public Schools, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), the Tampa Police Department, the State Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, the 13th Judicial Circuit Court, and 77 community members who served on seven specialized sub-committees.

The VPC was launched by the Board of County Commissioners after the school shootings in Newtown, Conn. shocked the nation and our community.

“Law enforcement alone cannot solve the problem of violence in Hillsborough County or anywhere else,” Beckner said to a roomful of supporters and the members of the media.

“Our plan is based on the understanding that violence can be prevented when all parts of a community – government agencies, community organizations and civic and faith leaders – come together to pursue data-driven, evidence-based strategies that address violence as a public health issue.”

To put things in perspective, Beckner said, “The planning phase is done. We are now moving into the VPC’s tactical or implementation phase.”

Besides Beckner, speakers included HCSO Col. Donna Luczynski, Hillsborough County School Board Member Cindy Stuart and Robert Blount, president of Abe Brown Ministries, all of whom have been part of the VPC’s work for the past year.

Armed with detailed “heat maps” that show the prevalence of poverty, truancy, domestic violence, child abuse, and violent crime throughout the county, Beckner said that the new data can pinpoint areas where prevention resources should be targeted in the next phase of the VPC’s work.

Also supporting the project, Luczynski said, “We cannot arrest our way out of this problem. The Safe and Sound Hillsborough initiative will work as we are getting the entire county to work together.”

Commenting on the preliminary results from the survey, Professor Martha Coulter of the University of South Florida’s School of Public Health said that many students are aware of the violence within their neighborhood but added that 89 percent of the students feel a sense of belonging and feel safe within the walls of their schools.

In agreement with Coulter, Stuart shared her support of the project and confirmed that schools play a major role in the success of the new plan when she said, “We are attempting to break the violence in our county and I am convinced violence is preventable.”

For more information follow Safe & Sound Hillsborough on Facebook “SafeSoundHills” or on Twitter @SafeSoundHills.