Taking a Village
Salinas needs a community effort to stop gang violence, activists and police agree.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Halfway through the year, Salinas has tallied up a small fraction of last year’s record-breaking homicide count.June 20 marked the city’s third murder of this year, in what passes for good news in the troubled town. In comparison, 2009 saw 14 homicides by the end of June and helped the county top the state’s murder ranking. But despite the drastic drop, Salinas Police Chief Louis Fetherolf would like to see the crime rate diminish even further.
In order to help accomplish this, he wants more citizen input.
“My message has always been the same: We need community involvement,” he said prior to the June 24 Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP) public meeting. The long-planned meeting took place after the death of a 15-year-old boy in a gang shooting.
The incident remained on people’s minds.
“I look around and see a lot of the same faces, and that means there is a whole segment of the community we are not reaching,” Fetherolf said.
The meeting, held at the Salinas Community Center, attracted about 100 people, including various city and school officials and community members.
The meeting laid the foundation for CASP’s 2010-12 Strategic Work Plan, which will incorporate ideas from 23 public “listening sessions” and ideas adapted from San Jose, which has seen a drop in gang violence.
“We want to ask the question: How can we keep the community involved in the process?” says Bob Reyes, probation resources officer and project manager of the Silver Star program.
Deputy city attorney Georgina Mendoza, who does double duty as a CASP community coordinator, agrees. At the meeting, she broke up the crowd into groups that then discussed how to successfully gather a larger public voice towards stopping violence, even in a down economy with a minimal budget.
“We want everyone to be empowered,” she says. “The community [members] are the ones who have to live out there.”
But the drop in violence is not the only dramatic loss. The Salinas police department itself has let go of 39 personnel in the past two years. Even with the diminished department, Salinas’s public information officer Lalo Villegas is optimistic. In 1999, he says, the department had 158 sworn officers, the same as in 2010, and the city’s population has grown considerably.
“We feel that with more officers we could do more, but our goals are definitely the same,” Villegas says. “We care about the community and need their help.”
One issue, however, is filling patrol shifts. Villegas says the department has been removing officers from special units and putting detectives on regular shifts. “[As of] July 1, the violence suppression unit is having six officers rotated back to patrol division,” he says.
To make up for the difference, Chief Fetherolf keeps a consistent message in the forefront: citizen involvement.
“If we convince the community of a direct impact to their lives, then they may be more helpful,” he says.
“Apathy is very costly.”