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Gang intervention efforts take significant steps
by Visalia (CA) Delta-Times
December 15, 2007 Reducing gang violence in our communities requires many different strategies, and progress can be measured in many different ways. We have tried throughout the past 10 months to report on the events and programs that work and, where possible, to provide tangible, measurable indications of that progress.
This month’s report is a mixed bag, as many of them are. The community had a successful convention of diverse interests to discuss the problem of gangs. Specific programs began in Cutler-Orosi. The process of neighborhood revival continued in Visalia. Suppression efforts in Visalia took a new course and yielded specific results.
• Visalia police last month tried a new tactic against gang members — specific, targeted search warrants.
"You have to mix things up and try different things to keep the gangs off balance," said Lt. Jason Salazar, head of the Visalia Police Department’s Special Enforcement Unit.
Police confiscated 18 firearms from gang members as a result of the search warrants, which is four or five times as many as in a typical month.
• Tulare County Sheriff’s Department opened its new substation in Cutler-Orosi, providing 24-hour police presence to that community for the first time. The new substation was built with $1.7 million in Millennium Fund money.
TCSO’s presence in Cutler-Orosi is more than a building, however. The Sheriff’s Department has also started a new program called "Weed and Seed" specifically to combat gang influences.
"Weed and Seed" is a program developed in other communities that operates on a two-step principle: "Weed" the community of gang members with aggressive arrest sweeps, then "seed" the community with assistance in the form of job training and opportunities.
Deputy James Howell is assigned to the new Cutler-Orosi substation and is in charge of the Weed and Seed program, which will operated with a grant of $1 million over five years. Howell said the program has enlisted the assistance of 300 community members who will be allies in identifying gang problems. They will meet regularly to identify problems and suggest responses. The deputies are also working with CSET to set up programs.
"This is also about creating community and providing a safe haven for people," Howell said. "We have just started but we are already seeing a difference."
Howell said the first sweep made about 40 arrests and the follow-up is taking place now.
• The StepUp gang summit on Dec. 6 in Visalia was obviously the most visible event of the year in terms of the fight against gangs. It included officials from local, county, state and federal levels, every law enforcement agency in the county, every city and government unit, every social services provider, most school districts, more than 40 agencies, from faith-based organizations to Scouts to job training agencies, dozens of businesses and 1,500 participants.
That summit was literally the first small step. Communities and individuals need to continue to Step Up and move forward.
Among the features of the summit were more than 40 agencies who are seeking volunteers and other support in their efforts to address gang violence — youth groups, churches, social services, etc.
The list of those exhibitors is on this page, and every one of them would like nothing more than to hear from people who want to help. Mostly they are seeking volunteers, but they are also in need in other kinds of support — people’s talents, understanding, promotion and donations.
If you haven’t already, contact an agency in an area of interest. Or call and find out more about an agency to learn how to help.
There is something for everybody.
• The folks about the Lincoln Oval Park and the Washington School neighborhood continue to make progress in the efforts to restore their neighborhoods.
City officials toured the Lincoln Oval Park area with members of the North Visalia Advisory Committee and other interested residents recently. Residents and officials discussed issues such as drainage, traffic, landscaping features, fencing and parking.
In the Washington neighborhood, residents there met with city officials to talk about improved lighting. The residents hope the city will develop some plans for new lighting early next year.
These are both just the beginning of tangible progress, but that has to start somewhere. This is an opportunity to keep tracking progress.
Meanwhile, in this season of the year when people connect with each other, keep in the mind the No. 1 message of the gang summit: Relationships matter. They are the most effective tool in reaching young people and keeping them safe. Take the opportunity this season to make a connection with a child. It will bear fruit in both your lives.