New anti-gang campaign launched in the South Bay

By Lisa Fernandez

Updated: 04/24/2009 08:23:40 AM PDT

Their message about gangs was direct and a little edgy.

Top law enforcement leaders and politicians in Silicon Valley on Thursday stood in front of a billboard with a cemetery as the background and a sign that read: “Gangs have a special place for your kids. We can help.”

The ad is part of a new anti-gang program in the South Bay. It encourages anyone who wishes to steer clear of gang life to call the new GangFree Resource Hotline at 408-808-FREE or visit free.

“Gang violence can be deadly to our children,” said Santa Clara County District Attorney Dolores Carr, who was flanked by San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, and police brass from San Jose, Santa Clara, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Los Altos Hills, and Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department. “Gangs tear at the fabric of our community.”

Within the past couple of weeks, at least a dozen of these anti-gang billboards and 500 posters began sprouting up throughout Santa Clara County. Radio and TV spots launched today.

The three-month media campaign cost about $60,000 — the money comes from a program that seizes the assets of criminals.

Carr said she was inspired to launch the anti-gang blitz after attending a district attorney’s conference in Fresno, where there was a similar campaign. When the campaign ends July 31, campaign leaders will assess whether the program was successful — mostly by the number of calls that come into the hot line, said DA spokesman Nick Muyo. Even if the program doesn’t continue, at a bare minimum, the phone number will remain, and an outgoing message would steer callers to the GangFree Web site, which has a list of agencies that offer help.

It’s not as if Carr and others believe that billboards will necessarily stop a young person from getting into a life of violence or crime. But they hope the message will help parents with out-of-control teenagers find the proper resources — such as a counseling or parenting program.

“Our goal is to reach out and make the community part of the solution,” Carr said.

Since the campaign kicked off, Muyo said between “10 to 20” calls have come in to the hot line. Without disclosing too much, Muyo said one parent called up about a 15-year-old son who was being bullied at school. Muyo said the parent was referred to a “couple of different services,” some of which are free, some that cost money. All of the hot line counselors, who are city of San Jose park and recreation employees, speak Spanish and English. They take calls Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

They are supposed to conduct follow-up phone calls within five days to make sure the parents connected to the services they were advised of, Muyo said.

One of those agencies, Alum Rock Counseling Center, is part of the anti-gang effort. Center employee Yvonne Rios said counselors are on hand 24 hours a day to help out with free “mobile” crisis counseling, mostly to help kids who are habitual truants, runaways or curfew violators.

“When people come to us with problems, we ask, ‘why did you wait so long?’ ” Rios said. “And they say, ‘We didn’t know where to go for help.’ This campaign is good awareness for parents.”

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