Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

Pomona’s plan to battle gangs slow to fruition
Task force will unveil program in two weeks

Saturday, December 04, 2004 – POMONA – City streets have quieted down since the April killing of a California Highway Patrol officer outside Pomona Superior courthouse, but the lure of gang life remains.

The April 21 shooting of Officer Thomas Steiner, allegedly at the hands of a 16-year-old boy out to impress a local street gang, shocked and horrified those within the community and beyond.

City officials, however, remain dedicated to fulfilling a promise made to residents that curtailing youth violence would become a top priority. In response, the Mayor’s Youth and Family Task Force was established to boost outreach into the community.

“This task force is not going away,” said City Councilman Dan Rodriguez, who helped create the initiative along with Mayor Eddie Cortez. “We have seen the monster in the stories published about our city and we have to face reality that we have a serious problem. This thing, our committee, will not die.”

In two weeks the task force plans to unveil a resolution that will lay the groundwork for tackling youth violence within the city. It is expected to serve as the backbone for a future youth master plan for the community, said Bernardo Rosa, director of the Community Wellness Partnership, an organization addressing youth in crisis within the city.

“People have to trust this is the right progress,” Rosa said. “Any community development process takes time. This way you just don’t add a Band-Aid to the problem. The process of community prevention entails studying different models that have worked in the past. There is no cookie-cutter approach to this.”

But the effort has been slow to evolve – too slow, say some.

“The city has done nothing since the Mayor’s Task Force was formed,” said Juan Nievez with Sandlewood Rehab and Development. “There are many people in the community that believe this task force is just show and no action.”

But Cortez contends that more time is needed to solidify a lasting solution.

“It’s been difficult, but I am not giving up,” Cortez said. “This is a gang issue. We need to focus on the wannabes, the kids on the edge, the kids in gangs.”

The resolution is the culmination of efforts by various volunteers, including city activists, officials and residents who have taken part in various task force meetings.

A community policing program, education and referrals for at-risk children to the right programs will take priority under the resolution, Cortez said.

Two weeks ago, federal facilitators with the Community Policing Program, a component of the U.S. Justice Department, came to the city at the invitation of Police Chief James Lewis, who heads the law subcommittee of the task force, to train task force volunteers.

The Community Policing Program focuses on partnerships between law enforcement and the community, Lewis said.

“The Mayor’s Task Force is going to need some minor victories,” Lewis said. “This group has got to focus on something that they can accomplish. People need to be on the same page and eventually we’ve got to stop having these meetings and … make something happen.”

Since the task force’s inception, a number of public meetings have been fraught with debate, often leading to dissension. Programs, ideologies and personalities clashed as possible solutions were bandied about.

Meanwhile, the city’s gang problems remain.

But task force leaders maintain the open debates and discussions are needed to develop real solutions.

“I didn’t spend so much time planning this out to have it fizzle out,” Cortez said. “I hope it becomes a model for how to address gang problems in other cities. There will always be hard-core gang members, but we just want to lessen the impact and save the kids that can be saved.”

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