Manteca Police have documented just over 200 gang members.
And while it isn’t a crime to be a gang member in California, it is a crime to be in a street gang while committing crimes for the benefit or on behalf of a gang.
By documenting gang members — an exacting and time consuming process that involves verifying gang tattoos, association with known gang members, and crime history — Manteca Police provide prosecutors with a powerful tool.
Under California law any documented gang member convicted of a felony gets an enhanced sentence regardless of the outcome of the incident.
Seven years ago, as an example, Manteca Police arrested a documented gang member who was found guilty of a drive-by shooting where only a building was hit. Had he not been a gang member, he would have received several years at the most for his first offense. But since he was a documented gang member he received a minimum sentence of 20 years.
The same thing happened to a 19-year-old a few years before that who was in a taxi when he shot at another vehicle. Although no one was hit, prosecutors were able to secure a minimum 20-year sentence.
In addition documented gang members sent to prison for crimes are one group of prisoners that aren’t eligible for early release under recently imposed state guidelines to reduce prison population.
Police Chief Jodie Estarziau noted since the City Council was able to fund a four-officer gang unit, Manteca Police have been able to be in a better position dealing with gangs.
“It takes a lot of effort to do the intelligence work that will hold up in court,” Estarziau said.
The intelligence also allows police to respond better to incidents involving crimes.
While the 200 number might strike some as high, for California cities of comparable size it is on the low side.
Estarziau said the lion’s share of assaults in Manteca is attributed to gang members attacking rival gang members.
The police chief declined to characterize Manteca’s gang problem to any degree as to whether it has improved. However based on crime activity over the past 20 years, gang-related violence is down historically. And while the city’s population has risen, the number of documented gang members has remained fairly steady. At one time in 2010 documented gang members were in excess of 300 in Manteca.
Estarziau noted having a dedicated gang unit has allowed the department to concentrate resources on keeping track of those individuals responsible for a larger share of crimes committed.
Last decade when Manteca had a flare-up of gang-related incidents — including eight stabbings and two shootings that occurred over a three-day weekend — more than half of those arrested in the gang-on-gang violence where gang members living outside of Manteca.
Targeted enforcement and the establishment of the gang unit have significantly reduced gang violence in Manteca since then.
There are still periodic shootings and stabbings. In many instances, the victims refuse to cooperate with police due to their involvement in gangs.
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