The Money’s All Gone
Drop in violent crimes means no federal dollars to fight gangs.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
The county’s Joint Gang Task Force (GTF) may become a victim of its own success.
There were 2,097 violent crimes and 33 homicides in Monterey County in 2004, the year the GTF received a $3.1 million federal startup grant. In 2005, the number of violent crimes fell to 1,858; homicides were down to 14. The decline in gang-related crimes means that the GTF—a team of combined resources and officers from the Salinas Police Department, Sheriff’s Department, Probation, California Highway Patrol, and a crime analyst—works. It also means that the task force no longer qualifies for the federal dollars it received in ‘04.
Currently, the GTF operates on whatever cash each local agency has put up to keep the team operational, including $1 million generated from Salinas’ Measure V.
“Gangs that haven’t been active for years are starting again.”
“The money’s gone,” says Salinas Police Department and GTF Commander Dino Bardoni, “but we’re committed to keeping this thing going.”
Brian Contreras is the executive director of Second Chance Youth, a gang prevention and intervention program in Salinas that offers kids alternatives to gangs. He says statistics don’t reflect what he sees on the street.
“We enjoyed a drop in the number of gang members about two, three years ago—a serious drop,” he says. “But we’re starting to see a pickup again. Gangs that haven’t been active for years are starting again.”
Contreras says there are roughly 5,000 gang members countywide working in about 63 active gangs.
More recent statistics support Contreras’ contention that while gang violence once mellowed, it’s on the rise again. In 2006, there were 20 homicides countywide. In the first 35 days of 2007, there were 10 attempted murders in Salinas alone.
Still, there’s little doubt that GTF is working.
“They’ve made a name for themselves,” Salinas Police Chief Dan Ortega says. “They’re making a remarkable difference. But to assume the work’s done, that we can just dismantle it now when we’ve just begun, would be foolish. We won’t.”
Bardoni says he’s learned to work with a tightened budget, cutting overtime and being ultra-selective about what equipment and training GTF applies for. But, he says, that doesn’t mean enforcement efforts have stalled or even slowed.
“No, there’s no money,” he says. “But we’re out there working, and that’s not going to stop. The County and City both recognize this is not the panacea but a good baseline to work from. To let it dwindle now would be a step backwards. That’s not going to happen.”