An Omaha youth employment program has helped reduce gun assault rates during the summer, community leaders said Friday.
Mayor Jim Suttle joined Willie Barney, head of north Omaha's Empowerment Network, and other officials at South Omaha's UPS facility to tout the growing jobs program as a key tool to assist in the city's ongoing struggle with street violence.
“It was our belief that employment provides a structured alternative to negative activity on the streets, and steers youths away from the temptation of gangs and guns,” Suttle said. “We were right.”
Barney pointed to Police Department statistics that said gun assaults in the city's northeast precinct have declined — during the months of May, June and July — since 2007. Barney said this year's gun assault rate during that period, 21, is the lowest level of violence in six years.
A similar downward trend appeared citywide during that time period, Barney said, while the number of summer job opportunities available since 2007 has increased dramatically.
“It's just amazing,” Barney said. “We've been able to grow summer employment in the city.”
The program accepted 443 participants this year, Barney said, roughly 74 percent of whom were between 14 and 18 years old.
Organizers will begin raising money and recruiting sponsors for the 2013 program next month, Barney said, with the goal of making 1,000 jobs available next summer.
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