San Jose task force wins credit in cops’ fight against gang crime

By Sean Webby and Mark Gomez

When police in the spring busted “Shorty” Sanchez and other men they identified as leaders and soldiers of one of San Jose’s most powerful and violent street gangs, law enforcement felt they had taken off the street major players in the city’s troubling trend of rising gang violence.

The indictments and arrests of key members of El Hoyo Palmas, a multigenerational Norteño gang, was one of the major victories in the city’s fight against the gangs. As 2008 comes to a close, gang crime has decreased significantly.

Mayor Chuck Reed, gang experts and police brass say the anti-gang strategies — part of the comprehensive and collaborative citywide efforts of the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force — are working to quell much bloodshed.

The mayor gave much credit to police suppression of gangs — and cited the El Hoyo Palms busts as being particularly influential in keeping the streets quiet.

“There was a lot of violence from that one gang,” Reed said. “We slowed them down for awhile. But the vigilance has to be constant.”

There has been a 16 percent decrease in violent gang crime, including rape, robbery and aggravated assault, according to city statistics; simple gang-related assaults in San Jose fell 42 percent; and nonviolent gang crime, including drug offenses and probation violations, fell 30 percent.

There have been two fewer gang homicides than the year before and an overall decrease in the number of homicide victims from 36 to 32 this year — an 11 percent drop. This year, gang homicides made up 44 percent of the total slayings, approximately the same percentage the city has seen over the last three years.

Criminologists point out that it is difficult to point to much of a trend among San Jose’s homicides other than the fact that there are comparatively so few for a major American city.

“Homicide in San Jose is one of the world’s shortest books,” said University of California-Berkeley professor Franklin Zimring, a specialist on crime. “For a variety of demographic and structural reasons, the city has never had a homicide problem, compared to other large cities in California.”

By comparison, Los Angeles had about 600 homicides this year. New York City and Chicago had about 500; Oakland, about 120. San Francisco came close to 100.

The engine of almost all of San Jose gang violence was fueled this year — as it has been every year — by the ongoing gang wars between Norteños and the Sureños.

A national study released this week highlighted a dramatic multiyear increase nationally of African-American teens as victims of homicides, many of them the casualties of black-on-black violence. In San Jose, a majority of gang homicides are Hispanics killing Hispanics.

Four Hispanic teens were killed in gang homicides in February alone.

During the fall, city leaders and cops grew nervous that the homicides would exceed last year’s decade-high spike. In one weekend in early September, three people died in three fights at three different house parties in the east side of the city. Two of the killings were gang-affiliated, and cops and gang-violence prevention groups worked hard to prevent retaliations.

There were no more gang killings in 2008.

City officials and community and faith-based groups have also made a difference with their prevention and intervention efforts, officials reported. In 2007, Reed pumped a one-time allotment of $1 million into the gang prevention task force and then increased the annual funding from $3 million to $4 million a year, the first increase since 1999. The City Council also set aside an additional $242,000 to fund a Summer Safety Initiative aimed at keeping kids active with safe programs and activities during the dog days of summer. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office offset some of the cost of the program with $100,000 in funding.

Reed hopes to spend $500,000 next year on the Summer Safety Initiative.

City officials reported a 31 percent decrease in violent crime, including simple assault, from summer 2007 to this past summer. The spike in gang-related crimes reached a tipping point in September 2007.

“The police department is really good at suppression, but that’s not enough,” Reed said last month. “Putting more money into community-based organizations gets us more people on the street dealing with the gangsters.”

There was one homicide in November and one in December, and one man died in October after a September hit-and-run, bringing the city totals well in line with past years. None of those incidents was gang-related.

Despite the strides being made by the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force, gangs are still active in many San Jose neighborhoods. Tony Rodriguez, a supervisor at the Washington United Youth Center in downtown San Jose, says it’s common to see teens as young as 13 and 14 warily looking over their shoulders as they walk down city streets. The youth center, run by Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, is one of about 25 community organizations that receives funding from the mayor’s gang prevention task force.

“No kid is free from the troubles that live in these neighborhoods,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve had kids tell me, ‘I can’t go to this school because I have to bike through this neighborhood.’ When you hear things like that coming from a 13-year-old, it’s disheartening.”

 

stef Posted by on Dec 30 2008. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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