San Jose trying different approach against gangs

The Associated Press
03/14/2010

SAN JOSE, Calif.—San Jose officials are hoping the use of a rather unique approach to stemming gang violence will help reduce gang-related troubles in the city.

With signs that a long-running feud between rival street gangs may be heating up, the city has been calling in pastors and former gang members to try to ease tensions between rival gangs.

The use of the so-called intervention specialists, along with a gang prevention task force, contributed to reducing retaliatory attacks between rival gangs in 2009, according to officials.

“I know I’ve stopped murders from happening,” said Sonny Lara, an ordained pastor and one of San Jose’s longtime gang specialists. “If you give them an opportunity to think, they’ll do the right thing.”

As part of a gang prevention task force, the city’s parks and recreation department coordinates the intervention efforts, employing about 35 people.

The efforts helped to contribute to a decline in gang violence, with violent incidents dropping from 545 in 2008 to 403 in 2009, according to officials.

San Jose police Lt. John Spicer, commander of the department’s gang investigations unit, termed the use of intervention as a “critical piece” to reducing retaliatory attacks. But police work also played a role, according to Spicer.

Even with the efforts, San Jose officials expressed concerned about a recent spike in gang attacks.

There were four gang-related homicides in January and February, months that usually see less gang violence, according to police.

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