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How do we make the streets of Manteca safer?

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POSTED July 28, 2010 2:32 a.m.
It isn’t a good thing when anyone uses Yosemite Avenue as if it were the main drag in Dodge City at high noon.

Tuesday’s pre-dawn shooting that left one young man dead and another seriously wounded is sure to stir serious concern about the safety of Manteca’s streets. The victims in this case may have known their assailant. That doesn’t ease the fears that have been growing that the increased gang battles in Manteca will ultimately claim an innocent victim.

We’ve already had a young man driving on Manteca Avenue as a shooting occurred in the alley get his car hit. We’ve had a gentleman minding his own business in a convenience store on North Main Street get shot - although thankfully not seriously - from an errant bullet involving a gang confrontation. And we had a woman who almost got hit with gunfire while returning rented videos shortly before midnight across the street from the same store where another gang-related incident took place.

That doesn’t count people police believe who are gang members or associates such as the recent one where a guy got shot, then left the hospital with bullets still in his leg and then got stabbed on the way home.

So, to put it politely, is Manteca going to hell?

Well, yes and no.

Gang members have been getting bolder as the mercury has risen this year. Occupied residences and such have been hit by gunfire and so have cars.

On the flip side, these are not confrontations between strangers.

It isn’t like the one back in 1992 at the same convenience store where one of the gunmen collapsed in the East Yosemite Avenue shooting on Tuesday where a young man got stabbed to death while using the phone.

So what did the victim barely past his 18th birthday who was an altar boy and a youth soccer team coach in Tracy do to deserve such a fate? He stole a glance at a woman who happened to be the girlfriend of a jealous and violent gang member. Now that should give us pause. It doesn’t dismiss the severity of what happened Tuesday but it does help put it in perspective.

While we shouldn’t take a cavalier approach to anyone’s death by violence, it is a bit different when those involved know each other.

There is no overwhelmingly solid reason for killing another unless it is in self-defense or perhaps stopping someone from killing another.

Murder isn’t a good thing, period.

But how do we prevent it?

Throwing more police manpower - especially in gang units - would help somewhat - but only to a certain extent. Given the overwhelmed San Joaquin County criminal justice system the odds are such a strategy would ultimately take us on a path to replicate Fort Apache in the South Bronx.

There are a multitude of things that must be done. And it goes just beyond early intervention to steer kids down the right path when they are youngsters by giving them safe havens, a sense of belonging, and mentors. At the end of the day, it is the presence of gang violence today that tips the scales as many young kids who join gangs do so out of fear.

It also doesn’t help that the current economy had made it extremely hard for those 18 to 25 to get jobs. It is never a good thing when you have young men pumped up on testosterone who aren’t involved in some form of higher education, work and such to be simply hanging around.
So what can we do to combat what is without a doubt Manteca’s biggest crime problem - gangs?

First, we’ve got to work close with police. Everything from on-line reporting to calling when you see something amiss is a must. Yes, police don’t always immediately respond. Yes, they aren’t perfect. But they need such information to either build cases or become aware of problem spots so limited resources can be directed in the most efficient manner.

Second, if anyone is in a position to volunteer they should do so whether it is Seniors Helping Area Residents and Police or Police Chief Dave Bricker’s Volunteers in Police Service those 18 to 50, or other efforts such as Community Emergency Response Team and Police Explorers. The volunteer manpower allows them to free trained law enforcement manpower from more mundane tasks the more so they can focus on what needs to be done.

Third, it must be a top priority of our City Council to squeeze whatever they can - even if it is temporarily until sales tax bounces back up - out of the budget to allow the hiring of more gang unit officers. Keep in mind Bricker and other law enforcement personnel ultimately will tell you it is foolish to cut off other programs needed to have a desirable and orderly community in a bid to ramp up the police force. But there could be things such as diverting the receipts from Big League Dreams ear-marked by the council for recreation uses to hire two or three cops until such time sales tax comes back. You could even take a slight risk and chip into the Measure M public safety tax reserve and hire two police officers.

Fourth, things such as Bricker’s plans to establish an on-the-street team using federal dollars to have street savvy non- police officers work with those who want to get out of gangs need to be pursued. Such programs do have success. Even if it manages to break just a handful free from gangs it will pay much greater dividends by reducing the ranks of gangs.

Fifth, City Manager Steve Pinkerton’s proposal to devise an ordinance to hold landlords accountable for their tenants will go a long way toward not attracting more gang problems. That, when coupled with administrative hearings will not hold landlords responsible for criminal action per se but for profiting - i.e. rent proceeds  - from people who are problems in terms of both neighborhood tranquility and property blight.

 We can bellyache all we want about the laws, the justice system, and such but there isn’t much we can do about those things and it is doubtful we want to see a wholesale tossing of civil safeguards for obvious reasons.

It doesn’t mean, though, that we can’t take steps to make the streets of Manteca safer.
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