Money runs out for Gang Task Force and Silver Star Youth Programs.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
As Salinas caps a dubious year of brazen, gang-motivated executions, the county is poised to pull funding from law enforcement’s Gang Task Force and Silver Star, an award-winning, gang-prevention and intervention program.
County department heads are trying to come up with cash to spare for the cherished programs amid budget slashing to offset a nearly $25 million deficit. With federal, state and local funds drying up, Silver Star has a shortfall of $282,826 and the Gang Task Force lacks $571,489 to finish off the fiscal year.
The Board of Supervisors on Dec. 16 voted to fund Silver Star and the task force through January. The Sheriff’s Office, Probation Department and other county agencies will return to the supes next month with potential solutions to keep the programs running. But Sheriff Mike Kanalakis says the outlook is bleak.
“They said go back and sharpen your pencil, but we already know the answer,” Kanalakis says. “There is nowhere to go unless you can pull a rabbit out of a hat.”
“THERE IS NOWHERE TO GO UNLESS YOU CAN PULL A RABBIT OUT OF A HAT.”
Kanalakis is facing a $3 million gap in his department and says he can’t absorb the cost of the Gang Task Force.
The joint task force, formed in 2005, consists of 17 law enforcement officers: five from the Sheriff’s Office, six from the Salinas Police Department, two probation officers, two California Highway Patrol officers, and a cop from Seaside and Soledad.
The suppression team spends a majority of its time patrolling Salinas, which has tallied 24 homicides this year – the highest number since 1994. Although shootings have settled down during the past month, now is not the time to pull the Gang Task Force off the streets, outgoing Cmdr. Dino Bardoni says.
“If you just close the door to the Gang Task Force, you are going to have a void,” he says. “Organized crime and these gang members are going to have carte blanche across the county.”
Pulling the plug completely on the task force seems highly unlikely. Salinas City Manager Artie Fields says the city is committed to funding its portion of the unit.
“We’ll continue without the county,” he says, adding, however, that the gang problem is not something Salinas can tackle on its own. “At a minimum, this entire county needs to come together to deal with gangs or we are all going to fall prey to them.”
Equally – if not more – critical to the gang-fighting equation is the Silver Star Resource Center. The center houses a network of drug, gang and family counselors as well as teachers and psychiatrists at the old Natividad Hospital site. Bob Reyes, Silver Star program manager, says an average of 125 teens visit the center daily. Schools refer students to Silver Star for truancy, family, substance abuse or gang problems.
Reyes says the program is starting to show success with 11 students on pace to graduate from Silver Star’s independent study school, more than the three previous years combined. Additionally, the California School Board Association recently gave Silver Star the Golden Bells award for its educational programs.
Probation Chief Manny Real says he will try to at least keep the core elements of Silver Star intact. “We have real financial constraints,” he says. “We are going to do the best that we can to keep this program operational. It probably will have to be scaled back.”
Silver Star has partnerships with many community organizations, so Reyes is hopeful that the multiple agencies will be able to pool resources and keep the center afloat. “Despite the bleak economic times we have to find a way to continue to invest in youth and families through services like Silver Star,” he says.
While the Gang Task Force and Silver Star may be able to scrape together funds to keep fighting gangs this fiscal year, beyond that their future is even more uncertain. The county’s deficit next year could reach $40 million.