Merced DA blasts supervisors over lack of funds to fight gangs

Ramona Giwargis (Merced Sun-Star) | January 28, 2014

The county Board of Supervisors got an earful Tuesday from the district attorney, who urged the supervisors to devote more resources to fighting gang violence.

“Each year I have spoken with members of this board and told them that the amount of money and resources we are devoting to the gang problem is not enough,” said District Attorney Larry Morse II. “And each year nothing has changed. The result, as we have just seen, is a year in which 19 people were murdered in the unincorporated areas of our county, the majority of them gang-related.”

Morse cited statistics for the number of violent crimes in the county last year, which pegged Merced as the 88th most dangerous place to live in the nation. Morse said 2013 was the most deadly year in Merced’s history, with 29 homicides.

By comparison, Fresno County had 53 homicides, but with a population of nearly four times at 900,000. Stanislaus County had 42, but with a population more than double Merced County’s, Morse said.

“That tells us that we had a significantly higher per capita murder rate than either Fresno or Stanislaus counties,” Morse said. “Of particular concern to this board should be the 19 homicides in the unincorporated area of Merced County, far and away the most ever.”

In response to the explosion of violent crime, Morse said, the District Attorney’s Office created the Merced Multi-Agency Gang Task Force in 2008 and poured about $1.4 million into the effort over the last five years – despite that not being its core mission.

“The primary responsibility of the District Attorney’s Office is to prosecute crimes, not solve or prevent them,” Morse said. “Had the DA’s office not devoted scarce resources to this undertaking, Merced County would have had no organized gang strategy or response to gang violence despite the presence of more than 5,000 validated gang members in this county.”

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