ORLANDO – The 25th National Conference on Preventing Crime in the Black Community last week begged the question: Who were its biggest beneficiaries?

Were they the more than 1,000 law enforcement officials and program specialists who exchanged ideas and experiences, or the hundreds of African-American youth who participated along with them? Or, will it be the communities to which they return?
First held in 1986 in Orlando with 200 attending, the conference began as a partnership of then-Florida Attorney General Jim Smith, eight Florida Urban League affiliates and the National Crime Prevention Council.

Growing to 1,300 in Jacksonville last year, the conference has thrived with the support of subsequent attorneys general, including Florida’s Bill McCollum and his predecessors, Richard Doran and Bob Butterworth.

Each was there May 26-29, when an estimated 1,500 people – 450 to 500 of them youth, including more than 100 from Palm Beach County — gathered for this year’s conference.

McCollum and Georgia Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker hosted the event at Orlando’s Rosen Centre Hotel.

Also present were myriad Urban League presidents such as Palm Beach County’s Patrick Franklin and Greater Miami Urban League President T. Willard Fair.

“This is not about preventing crime,” Fair said. “This is about black-on-black crime.”

Fair, who also chairs the state Board of Education, said “It was not about blaming others, but it was about assuming the responsibility to do it ourselves.”

The conference met its “Promoting Positive Solutions” billing with several dozen workshops focused on adults or youth.

An adult session on “Hip Hop Culture’s Influence on Youth” featured Shawn Jackson of Atlanta. Jackson first appeared in stereotypical hip-hop garb, then returned barely recognizable in a business suit, to drive home the point of his session, and his book (Is Rap Music Poison?)

Inda Spencer, coordinator for Riviera Beach’s Weed and Seed Program, said she brought 37 people from her organization, which seeks to weed out crime.

She has attended the conference for the last 13 years.

Among other things, she said, “Our kids really enjoyed the information they learned in the workshop on ‘So You Think You Know the Law?’ For example, that when a police officer pulls you over, even though you didn’t do the crime, if you’re in the car with the person who did the crime, you’re also going to be held liable, even though you don’t get the same charge.”

Dr. Tammy Anderson of Panama City said that when she first attended the conference in 2005, “I was intrigued, I was impressed, and I took the idea back to my city, and that’s when I started JUDOS,” her youth crime prevention program, short for Juveniles Understanding Discipline, Order and Service.

Anderson said she was back for her sixth year with 20 kids, and presenting a workshop “giving people nuggets and tools on how to create a youth crime prevention program.”

Among the youth, Tennyson Ziegler, 16, said, “I learned a lot about crime and ways to avoid it. I learned how to have a nice relationship with your mother, even though you don’t want her to look through your stuff online or offline.”

He continued, “But I figured out they have a right to because certain kids in the world are doing stuff they aren’t supposed to do.”

He was referring to the youth workshop on “Facebook and MySpace: Cyberspace Safety.”

Ziegler, of West Palm Beach, was attending his first conference. His friend, Cameron Burgess, 15, of Riviera Beach, back for his third year, said he, too, considered it valuable.

Might it lead him to pursue a career in law enforcement?

“No,” he said, “because it’s a dangerous job and I don’t really like police.”

Retired Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Lt. Beverly Morrison has helped Palm Beach County consistently field the highest youth representation. She described the conference as “reaching for excellence in police and community relations. That’s what we’re doing. We’re bridging that gap.”

For law enforcement, she said, “We get to see programs that are being performed in other areas that maybe we can look at doing in our own areas. And we take these things back and we try to implement them. Without this type of venue that probably would not be possible.”

Dan Gilmore, the attorney general office’s designated staff person for organizing and implementing the event, said it continues to be successful because “We’re looking at the African-American community, and we’re looking at things that work. We’re looking for people that are positive about what they’re doing. And then we just share that.”

The conference returns to Miami next year, its date and location to be determined.

C.B. Hanif is a former news ombudsman and editorial columnist for The Palm Beach Post who also blogs at www.cbhanif.com.