Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gang issue is 'coordination'


Presented with an extensive report on the enforcement and intervention programs aimed at preventing youth and gang violence in Santa Barbara since the March 14 stabbing death of a 15-year-old boy, the City Council’s response hinged largely on one topic.
“Coordination, coordination, coordination,” Councilmember Brian Barnwell said. “…I don’t think it can be emphasized enough that the missing link is coordination.”

After representatives from the Santa Barbara Police Department and the Parks and Recreation Department ran down an impressive list of youth programs and enforcement efforts, the Council’s discussion centered on how to bring those programs together to increase spending efficiency and prevent needless duplication.
“That hub is essential or the wheel won’t turn,” Councilmember Helene Schneider said.
Barnwell reiterated his concept of a joint commission between the city and the County of Santa Barbara focused on coordinating programs that target not only youth violence, but drug and alcohol use and suicide as well.
Councilmember Roger Horton suggested focusing on the demographics of kids not currently involved in a youth program and creating programs to meet their needs. He also issued a “100 percent” challenge.
“Let us strive in 2008 to figure out a way to involve … as close to 100 percent of the kids in our community as possible,” he said.
Councilmember Iya Falcone, echoing calls for coordination, also highlighted the importance of police bicycle patrols, parent support groups and funding of the Police Activities League.
She also focused on the cyclical nature of gang violence mentioned by Deputy Police Chief Rich Glaus during his report to the Council.
“There is a lesson to be learned here,” Falcone said. “When we get a handle on a problem, don’t stop addressing it.”
Councilmember Grant House emphasized a social-worker approach to the gang members already identified by the police department, suggesting that the city work one-on-one with them to identify and meet their needs.
“Each of these kids, each of these young people count,” he said.
Describing how he has spent recent weeks walking precincts and talking to families, Councilmember Das Williams said he is encouraged by how many people want the city to take action against youth violence.
“However, I am somewhat discouraged by how few people want to pay for it,” he said. “It’s not just the programs that save the youth. It’s people participating in the programs and helping to save the youth. … Everybody wants someone else to solve this problem.”
One Santa Barbara resident, Silvia Uribe, gave her view to the Council as well, first describing herself as a mother, a community member and a Latina.
“I don’t think our actions as a community will be successful if we don’t get the parents involved,” Uribe said. “…If your flowers aren’t blooming, you should talk to the gardener.”
Deputy Chief Glaus launched yesterday’s lengthy report by giving an overview of the police department’s effort to fight youth crime, through both enforcement and preventive measures.
“This has been on our city’s radar … for at least a year,” he said. “It was clear to us that instances of youth violence were going up.”
Although programs such as the Police Activities League are a vital part of the solution, Deputy Chief Glaus said enforcement is just as vital.
“We still have a subset out there of young people that make the choice to be criminals,” he said.
Although 11 separate gangs have been identified in Santa Barbara, the State Street boundary largely divides gang activity into two separate factions, Sgt. Ralph Molina said. Police have identified 768 gang members, Sgt. Molina added, a figure he said does not include gang associates or affiliates.
Since March, the city has witnessed two homicides, 14 serious assaults, nine street robberies and numerous incidents of vandalism, fights and disturbances, according to the report.
In response, the police department had dedicated 12 officers to work full-time on gang and youth violence issues, reinstated neighborhood bike patrols and reconstituted the Serious Habitual Offender Program in the local juvenile justice system.
With its two-member daily bike patrols alone, the police department has netted more than 30 felony arrests, 61 misdemeanor arrests and 329 citations since May, Sgt. Molina said before turning the floor over to Capt. Ed Szeyller.
As director of the Police Activities League, Capt. Szeyller focused his portion of the presentation on intervention and prevention efforts being made by the police department.
“We try to provide quality educational, cultural and athletic programming for the youth of Santa Barbara, and build positive relationships between the police department and all members of the community,” he said.
About 1,300 youth participated in PAL this year, he said. D.A.R.E. and school resource officers provide the educational aspect on school campuses throughout the city.
“There’s really no need to reinvent the wheel,” Capt. Szeyller said, explaining that the police department has been working with other community organizations as well to bolster their youth programs.
Following Capt. Szeyller’s presentation, parks and recreation director Nancy Rapp highlighted a plethora of youth activities sponsored by the city, including summer drop-in programs, community handball, RAP, A-OK, youth summits, a youth apprenticeship program and afterschool programs.
“We have all been participating in a number of community meetings and outreach,” Rapp said. “…We have seen an increase in collaboration, an increase in funding and an increase in youth involved.”
Among the highlights were Summer Fun Drop-In Programs at Harding, McKinley, and Franklin elementary schools and Ortega Welcome House that drew in 437 kids; a Community Handball League and Clinic that involved 160 youth; and an average attendance of 30 teens per day at the new Twelve35 teen center.
Rapp also noted that junior high afterschool programs — an area seen by many city leaders as key to getting youth involved at a young age — has continued to struggle with participation.
Just 288 students participated during the first quarter, down 11 percent from last year, Rapp said, adding that the city and the school district will continue to work together to iron out logistical problems.
Although the Council as a whole seemed pleased with the progress made on both the enforcement and prevention fronts, each member emphasized that solving the youth and gang violence problem is a long-term project.
“This is an excellent first step,” Barnwell said, “but it’s a long, long road.”

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