Conference focuses on deterring crime
By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN
© St. Petersburg Times,
TAMPA -- Each year, a group of youths from Brevard County travels throughout Florida to sing at churches and community events.
They weren't brought together by a church or school, but rather by law enforcement officers who wanted to provide an alternative to the streets. Today, the officers serve as tutors and mentors while making an impact through music.
The idea came to Brevard County sheriff's Deputy Robin Brown in 1997 while she was in Miami at the National Conference on Preventing Crime in the Black Community.
Thursday, Brown was back at the conference, held at the Tampa Convention Center and the Marriott Waterside this year, in search of more inspiration.
The four-day convention, the largest of its kind in the country, is in Tampa for the second time in 10 years. It runs through Saturday and is expected to draw more than 3,000 participants, including police officers, community leaders and youths from around the country.
"Crime is down dramatically in this country and this state because of programs that came to light at this conference," said Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, whose office sponsors the event.
Among the notable crime prevention strategies the convention spawned are the gun buy-back program and the adoption of communities by law enforcement officers, Butterworth said.
And then there are efforts on a smaller scale, such as Brown's singers, who call themselves The Future. The conference is divided into two parts, with sessions for adults at the Marriott and for teens and their chaperones at the convention center.
Session topics range from "Surviving the Game: Success in the 21st Century," for teens, to "Building Stronger Kids, Families and Communities," for adults.
Guests include professional football player Derrick Brooks and Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan.
Among the participants Thursday was a group from the Northside Community Center in St. Louis, who wore matching yellow T-shirts.
Leon Threat, director of youth services at Northside, attended the conference in Miami three years ago. It made such an impact that the center now rewards good kids with trips to the convention each year. Thursday, he was accompanied by 22 excited kids.
"The presentations focus on inspiring and encouraging youths to succeed," Threat said. "People say you can have one bad kid to lead others to do wrong, but you can also have one good kid who can make a difference. They just need encouragement."
The conference was first held in 1986, when 280 people gathered in Orlando to discuss ways to curb crime in the black community.
If you go
The sessions are free to teenagers and their chaperones. Adults must pay a registration fee. For information, call the Marriott Waterside at (813) 221-4900 and ask for the convention registration desk.
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111