A Look At Santa Monica’s Gang Violence: How The STEP Act Has Helped Reduced Crime

Brenton Garen (Santa Monica Mirror) | March 9, 2012

From a law enforcement perspective, gang violence in Santa Monica is at an all-time low thanks to initiatives on a local and state level, according to the head of the Santa Monica Police Department’s Gang and Youth Intervention Unit, Sgt. Dean Oshiro.

In this fourth and final special report that looks at Santa Monica’s gang violence, Oshiro sat down to explain how intervention programs at a local level and the creation of the STEP (Street Terrorism Enforcement Prevention) Act on a state level has drastically reduced gang activity in the city.
“Back in the 1980s the County of Los Angeles saw an incredible rise in gang street violence,” Oshiro said. “What they particularly noted was the rise in homicides that were gang related. Legislators decided they wanted to do something to try to help law enforcement and the cities impact gang violence.”

What was created was the STEP Act that allowed California law enforcement agencies to add enhancement charges on top of 33 different felony crimes for those involved in gangs.

“If you went out and committed a crime as a gang member before the STEP Act you might have gotten 10 years of time,” Oshiro said. “With the STEP Act, they are looking at 15 years for the same crime. Legislators were hoping that it would persuade these gang members to not commit criminal acts because of the severe penalty.”

With 18 years’ experience with the SMPD, Oshiro said he has witnessed first-hand the number of gang-related incidents steadily decreasing since the introduction of the STEP Act.

“You don’t see the homicide numbers that we did see in the 80s and 90s,” he said. “In fact, what you’re seeing now, is a change in the gang culture going into this next decade. Now they are familiar with what the STEP Act does and now they’re changing their activities around it so they are not one of the 33 crimes. They are looking at other crimes not included in the STEP Act to avoid the gang enhancement.”

He said gang members had also begun to find loopholes around the STEP Act when it came to them hiding their affiliation.

“Our gangs are identified by particular set of circumstances or situations,” he said. “They are now learning to avoid those particular things like gang tattoos and gang signs as they try to maneuver around legislation. I hope that as this legislation catches up to the activities of the gangs that we would have new laws to help combat whatever they are getting involved with now.”

On a local level, Oshiro said the creation of at-risk youth intervention and prevention programs in Santa Monica since the early 2000s had also helped reduce gang activities.

He attributed this to the City’s Community Cultural Services Department and its programs, the continuation of the Police Activities League, the creation of the Youth Resource Team, the evolution of the teen center at Virginia Avenue Park, and the establishment of the Pico Youth and Family Center among the reasons for more youth being guided in the right direction away from gangs.

Read more at: http://www.smmirror.com/#mode=single&view=34235

Image source: City of Santa Monica

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