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Manteca gang violence on upswing
Police step up effort to counter gangs with community help
Educating parents is part of the effort Manteca Police has undertaken to combat gangs. - photo by Bulletin file photo
Crime continues to drop in Manteca with one glaring exception - gang violence.

Based on federal Department of Justice Uniform Crime Reports, Manteca saw an 18 percent drop in crime in 2008 and followed by double digit reductions in 2009. So far in 2010, felonies are off 28.4 percent and misdemeanor crimes down 29.7 percent compared to last year’s levels.

Gangs, though, have pushed aggravated assault up 60 percent so far this year. That comes on the heels of a 28.4 percent reduction in aggravated assaults in 2009.

 Police Chief Dave Bricker is making a detailed presentation of how gang violence has been changing in Manteca plus steps the department is taking to deal with it during tonight’s 7 p.m. meeting of the City Council in chambers at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.

Among the efforts to target gang-related problems include:
•The push to establish a Peacekeepers Program that employs streetwise citizens as coaches and intervention operators in the gang community. They would help direct at-risk and gang-involved youth toward education and jobs, help obtain tattoo removal, and assist them through mentoring and support. Manteca is working with the Stockton Police and San Joaquin County Sheriff’s that both have such programs. Congressman Jerry McNerney has submitted a request for $500,000 in federal funds to get the program started.
•Neighborhood meetings are being organized in high-crime and gang areas, and held in parks where gangs frequent. Bilingual deparments employees and Public Affairs Officer Rex Osborn conduct the information meetings regarding gang identification and reporting, and recognition of criminal activity. Neighborhood Watch programs are being established in areas where residents are willing to participate.
•Code enforcement officers and the Seniors Helping Area Residents and Police (SHARP) unit have been tasked to contact private property owners to have graffiti removed from their property within 72 hours as required by city ordinance.
•Manteca has coordinated with the regional administrator of Caltrans for the timely removal of all graffiti from freeway property within the city.
•The SHARP unit includes graffiti and abandoned auto abatement teams. The unit concentrates its efforts on high gang activity areas. Municipal public works and parks departments have graffiti abatement personnel who concentrate on vandalism to city property. The goal is to remove all graffiti on city property within 72 hours of its discovery. Abandoned vehicles are marked and towed as soon as the law allows.

Crime grows to level
the community tolerates
Bricker noted the programs are based on the concept “that crime will grow to the level a community is willing to tolerate, the goal is to increase community pride and reduce its tolerance in crime by improving the environment” where people live and the areas where crime and gang activity is taking place.

Bricker notes that Manteca’s gang problem in not new adding some Manteca gangs have been in existence for three generations.

Gang violence started escalating dramatically in 2005. That’s when aggravated assault, primarily caused by gang activity, jumped 22.33 percent. Drive by shootings, a rarity until then became a weekly occurrence if not more often. By the end of 2005 there were 200 documented gang members and over 1,000 gang associates living in Manteca.

Warring gangs by 2006 had staked out Southside Park and declared it their territory. That led to gang fights, stabbings and shooting on almost a nightly occurrence in the park just south of downtown.

Directed patrols, targeted enforcement, and neighborhood outreach eventually displaced gang members from the park and allowed the residents to reclaim their neighborhood. The gang activity shifted to another park forcing the police to repeat the process. By year’s end, aggravated assault had dropped 19 percent thanks to the overtime-driven effort to battle gangs.

Then the aggravated assault rate jumped another 42.3 percent with almost all of the crime attributed to gang-on-gang violence.

Passage of the Measure M half cent public safely tax allowed the City Council to establish a full-time gang unit. In the following year the unit identified and documented 512 gang members within the city limits so they could obtain enhanced sentencing when they build gang-related cases against them.

That set the stage for 2009 when police were able to arrest several gang leaders plus seize several gang armories. All of that and more led to a 28.3 percent reduction in aggravated assaults tied to gang violence.

The department has since reorganized due to the budget shortfalls caused by The Great Recession. The narcotics and gang units were combined into a street crime unit support by Measure M funding.

There has been a surge over the last five months of gang related violence in Manteca. Most of the victims happen to be gang members who are refusing to cooperate, making it difficult to arrest responsible parties and convict them. That hasn’t stopped the police from eventually making arrests in almost all of the cases.

Bricker has long argued the only way to have a long term impact on gangs and lessen their criminal activity and threat to the community is supporting intervention programs that keep youth from becoming involved with gangs.

To that end the department presented the “Target E to the Power of 3” strategy to the City Council in July 2007 that was subsequently adopted. The three-pronged attack includes enforcement, education and environment.

It strives to provide local youth with the tools to avoid gang involvement, control their violent emotions, and interact with others. It also provides parents with training in recognizing at-risk behavior and provides them with positive parenting skills. The police have partnered with the Manteca Ministerial Association, the Manteca Boys & Girls Club, Give Every Child a Chance, and Boys Scouts of America, local service and community organizations, and the Manteca Police Chief’s Foundation to offer alternatives to gangs.