Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Task force: curbing violence can't wait


A core group of community leaders and youth activists gathered Tuesday to continue building a strategic plan aimed at preventing youth violence in Santa Barbara.
While tasked with putting together a long-range vision to firmly establish intervention and prevention efforts, the strategy planning committee made it clear that action needs to be taken immediately.

“We continue to have stabbings and other crimes,” Police Chief Cam Sanchez said. “…We can’t put that under the rock until we come up with the perfect process.”
As a result, the group agreed to launch resource teams at local schools to identify troubled youth, meet with them and their families, and tailor programs specifically to their circumstances before school ends for the summer.
A starting point, Cam Sanchez said, is to focus on youth already identified as hard-core gang members, including those in jail or on probation.
Fred Razo, director of Juvenile Court and Community Schools, said about 100 teens on the South Coast are tagged by the court system as involved in gangs. He said their ages, between 13 and 17, make them perfect candidates for involvement with the school resource teams.
“We have them in a location where we can target them,” he said.
But Martin Conoley, the county’s deputy chief probation officer for juvenile services, cautioned against limiting the focus of the resources teams to a specified set of youth. The teams should also be on the lookout for those who perhaps aren’t on the radar of law enforcement yet, he said, but are still involved with gang activity.
A smaller subset of the stakeholders who met Tuesday agreed to work on the resource team concept, including Razo, Sarvis and Cam Sanchez. Partnering with those officials are others such as Babatunde Folayemi and Matt Sanchez — youth mentors and community leaders who have a proven track record of working on the front lines with troubled teens.
Key to getting youth involved in programs and out of gangs is developing relationships and trust, both Matt Sanchez and Folayemi emphasized.
“What they don’t expect, but what they need to see, is that the larger community supports them,” Folayemi said. “You can’t develop a relationship at a distance.”
Another crucial component of ensuring the resource teams are successful is getting families involved, Matt Sanchez said, pointing out that a chart displaying the 100 hard-core gang members and 650 affiliates or associates had no mention of their parents or siblings.
“We’re all like surgeons here talking about the next operation, but we don’t have the patient in the room,” he said.
While the group used much of their two-hour discussion time to mull over immediate strategies for implementation, Don Olson, the city’s director of special projects, emphasized that the short-term vision won’t divert attention from long-range planning or the 650 gang associates and others who might not be initially targeted by school resource teams.
When the group reconvenes in a few weeks, at a meeting tentatively scheduled for March 24 at 8 a.m., Olson said members will receive progress updates on the resource teams and focus their efforts on formulating a comprehensive strategic plan to address youth violence.
“We’re really focused on this inner core — difficult kids facing really difficult situations,” he said.
Before the discussion shifted to short-term strategies, the strategy planning committee opened the meeting by examining efforts to bring together a comprehensive inventory of youth services.
A joint project between the Family Services Agency and the county’s Juvenile Justice/Delinquency Prevention Commission, the directory is expected to be distributed in draft form to committee members by the end of the week.
Tara Haaland-Ford, chairwoman of the JJDPC, said the initial list will include only those agencies specifically targeted at gang intervention and prevention. Subsequent efforts will list other youth services, such as drug and alcohol abuse programs and mental health organizations.
Suggestions from the group on methods of dissemination included customized kiosks with touch-screen directories in youth centers and public spaces; a short pamphlet or booklet of key resources for those who work directly with youth to hand out; and specialists who would go into the community and interact with local residents.
Folayemi also suggested engaging youth in the process of putting together the directory, letting them visit service agencies and determine which are most appealing or welcoming.
Ultimately, the inventory of services will be made available to the public at and as well. Olson highlighted the directory as crucial to collectively addressing the youth violence issue.
“I think it’s going to yield a lot of good information on who is doing what,” he said, “and how we can better collaborate those efforts.”

1 comment:

Greg Knowles said...

I commend everyone for doing what they can to be proactive. This is an issue that has really impacted this community. I am optimistic about this groups success.