Thursday, October 7, 2010
Salinas has a new framework for combating gang violence.
In a departure from its current arrest – and prosecution-heavy focus, Mayor Dennis Donohue says, the city will now take a regional approach to crime fighting and emphasize community policing.
“We’re not policing in the vacuum of Salinas,” Donohue says. “You do want to work with multiple agencies. The commitment is to work toward being more embedded in the community.”
Donohue chose the plan from several options offered by counter-insurgency experts at Monterey’s Naval Postgraduate School, who have volunteered to help the city think strategically about gang issues.
NPS Professor Hy Rothstein, a veteran of counter-insurgency campaigns in such places as El Salvador and Colombia, is leading the volunteer effort aimed at helping the city win hearts and minds in tough Salinas neighborhoods while eradicating gangs.
Donohue ruled out the status quo, and nixed another approach that would give the most weight to prevention.
Instead, the PD will concentrate on suppression and intervention while working cooperatively with the county’s other law enforcement agencies.
“You can’t arrest your way out of the problem,” Donohue says.
City officials stress that the plan will be fleshed out and implemented with consultation from Salinas’ anti-gang coalition, the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace.
Donohue’s decision came just days before an Oct. 3-6 trip to Washington, D.C., for the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention.
Salinas is one of six cities singled out for extra federal help because of its already promising anti-gang work. The mayor, along with other city, county and non-profit officials, joined members of Obama’s cabinet and counterparts from Boston, Chicago, Detroit, San Jose and Memphis to share ideas, and position themselves to bring home the cash to put their ideas into practice.
For now, a lean public safety budget means innovative ideas take a back seat to the basics.
“We try to embed a philosophy of service,” says Salinas PD Deputy Chief Cassie McSorley. “We want officers to be empathetic, to address ongoing issues in a proactive way. But those are ideas that just don’t translate when you have 20 calls pending.”
McSorley says budget cuts have forced the elimination of several programs that put officers in schools or concentrated them in troubled areas. Now, she says, cops spend nearly entire shifts answering 9-1-1 calls.
But city officials emphasize that it’s not all about the money. They point to a sharp drop in Salinas’ murder rate from a record high in 2009. Fifteen people have been killed in the city so far this year, compared with 22 at this time last year.
They credit the decrease in part to the city’s Ceasefire program, which offers gang members an ultimatum: Get off the streets with the help of jobs and social services programs, or face relentless prosecution.
Still, on the eve of the trip, a 15-year-old boy was gunned down on the campus of Alisal High School. It was the third shooting in a week of violence.
Gang intervention veteran Brian Contreras, director of the nonprofit Second Chance, which runs the Ceasefire program, says it’s tempting to give up in the face of the unrelenting bloodshed – but the hard work pays off.
“For every shooting and homicide,” he says, “I’ve seen 10, 15, 20 kids that have changed and turned around.”