For the first time in its storied history, Statesville City Hall on Center Street was locked down.
It was 5:45 p.m. Feb. 18, and 20 Iredell County residents who face charges from assault to robbery filed into the packed council chambers to be given their last chance: "Play it straight or face severe consequences."
The "call-in" marked the official start of a $471,000 Statesville/Iredell County Gang Initiative. Representatives from law enforcement and community agencies made their case to the offenders, all of whom are on probation.
"We're tired of the violence and the shootings, and we're taking a hard stance against crime in our community," Statesville Police Chief Thomas Anderson said.
"We are all in agreement on what needs to be done," echoed Troutman Police Chief Matthew Selves. "A new day starts tonight."
The goal of SIGI is to improve the quality of life in Statesville and Iredell County and end violent crimes involving groups and gangs. Through local, state and federal partnerships, the program offers support for members of violent groups who commit to nonviolence.
Several speakers implored the 20 people, mostly male, to do the right thing and use services available to them, or face the federal justice system.
"We have plenty of room in our federal prisons for you, and the federal system is harsh," warned Dana Washington from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Victoria Harris, SIGI community resource coordinator, struck a softer tone: "We have programs that can help you find hope for tomorrow. There is a place for you here."
Statesville resident Andrea Roseboro described the heartache of losing her son to violence: "A parent should never have to bury their child."
The call-in was modeled on a similar effort in High Point, now being copied by dozens of communities nationwide.
"In High Point, the drug markets closed, and there have been large reductions in violent and drug-related crime," said David Kennedy of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
"A fundamentally new understanding between law enforcement and the community may be the most important outcome," Kennedy said.