Tough assignment: Former law enforcement officer aims to prevent youth crime in Mobile

Published: Apr. 20, 2022 at 6:55 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - The city’s new youth violence prevention coordinator on Wednesday held his first public event, hosting a gathering at Unity Point Park off of Broad Street.

A small number of people put up hand-written signs like, “Less Guns, More Love.”

Hired in February for the newly created post, Joshua Jones brings 11 years of military and law enforcement experience to the coordinator job. He has been a cop and a Secret Service agent. But this might be his toughest assignment. The city has tasked Jones with reaching troubled youths and steering them away from violence before it occurs.

It is one part of a four-corner approach that Mobile has dubbed “Operation Echo Stop.” That effort also includes deterrence, compliance and detection.

Jones said he is under no illusion about how difficult this will be. He said it will take a lot more than one afternoon of people making homemade signs.

“This didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “It didn’t get to this point overnight. It’s not gonna change overnight, right? And so that’s the main thing that I want to communicate to everybody, is to not have an expectation that we’re gonna snap our fingers and that this issue is going to go away.”

Police recorded 51 homicides last year, and the city is on a similar pace so far this year. Revering that trend will require a community-wide effort, Jones said.

“It’s a heart issue. Hear what I’m saying?” he said. “Like that’s what we’re facing. We’re facing a heart issue, and the only way to pierce the heart, man, is for genuine, authentic interaction in the way that we get to them. And it’s through the community, through the parents, the grandmothers, the cousins, the aunts, the sisters.”

Trithenia Ferrell was among those making signs Wednesday. She said she has friends and relatives who have been touched by violence.

“It’s real. And it needs to stop,” she said. “And the only way it can happen is we all have a voice; we have to speak up. And we have to let everybody know that we have to support one another. We have to speak out and not sit in silence or behind our doors.”

The Rev. David Edwards was there, too. His organization, People United to Advance the Dream, launched an anti-violence campaign on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4.

“The first thing you must do is understand what the gun does,” he said. “When you take a life, if you don’t understand the process to create another life, then you don’t value it.”

Jones said the job is personal to him.

“I could have easily been on other side of that trigger pull,” he said. “I have kids that I mentor that were on the other side of that trigger pull. I am raising three little girls that will grow up in this community.”

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