A Tough Ride
Salinas crime is down, but so are crimefighters.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
There’s good news and bad news in Salinas.
The 100th anniversary of the California Rodeo Salinas, celebrated in our cover package this week, is an annual event that combines rowdy fun with badly needed revenue for the troubled community.
It’s a time of celebration, and a chance to reconnect with our frontier past.
The bad news is that the Salinas police force has been cut back, at a time when their efforts are needed more than ever, because of the continuing budget crisis.
Nevertheless, the efforts of local law enforcement, and the increased responsiveness of the community, offer encouraging signs.
Playing a numbers game is dangerous, lest it lead to a false sense of security, but for the record, there were 29 homicides in Salinas last year, setting a sad record, and 25 in 2008. So far this year, there have only been three killings, although there have been two more gang-related shootings as recently as this week.
The crime decline has come about despite the failure of a ballot measure to support police services and economy-driven personnel cuts in the 2010-11 budget which, if carried out, will cut the city’s gang unit in half.
Not an ideal circumstance, to put it mildly.
All the more reason to commend the efforts of Salinas Police Chief Louis Fetherolf; Operation Ceasefire, which offers gang members the tough-love choice of changing their lifestyle or getting out of town; the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP); and contributions from other groups which have been trying to deal with the plague of violence that has been killing innocents and criminals alike.
The formation of a Monterey County narcotics unit, led by Fetherolf, that includes law enforcement from local cities and the Sheriff’s Office, under the aegis of the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, should also help.
WE SHOULD NOT DELUDE OURSELVES THAT THE PROBLEMS IN SALINAS ARE AT AN END, OR CLOSE TO ONE.
But the degree of difficulty should not be underestimated, nor should we delude ourselves that the problems in Salinas are at an end, or close to one.
“My message has always been the same – we need community involvement,’’ Fetherolf said at a June 24 CASP meeting which took place after the gang-related shooting death of a 15-year-old boy, as the Weekly reported. “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.”
The level of cooperation among law enforcement, and the apparent absence of bickering between the various agencies, stands as a marked contrast to what’s going on in other parts of the county.
The long overdue, and obviously desirable, proposed Joint Powers Agreement merging the fire departments of the cities of Monterey, Seaside, Pacific Grove and Carmel has been met with the usual kicking and screaming from some of the affected parties. (The four cities’ respective city managers, by contrast, are in accord that now is the time to get serious about these overdue reforms, which should cut costs and improve efficiency.)
The prospect of a hanging concentrates the mind.
The ongoing budget crunch makes the desirability of coming together on common solutions that make practical and economic sense that much more apparent.
The recession shows no sign of going away, and neither does the budget crisis. The need for regional, not city-by-city, solutions could not be more apparent.
In that respect, the inter-agency anti-crime effort in Salinas is even more remarkable, since it comes from a community that is battling tougher times and longer odds.
The progress that has been made in successful community outreach stands in marked contrast to recent incidents like the looting in Oakland which came about in response to the unjust involuntary manslaughter verdict for the cop convicted of shooting BART passenger Oscar Grant.
Police Chief Fetherolf has already announced that because of the budget crunch, police will be less able to spend time on minor violations, concentrating their manpower – and their firepower, when necessary – on the worst problems with which they are confronted.
Despite his remarks at the CASP meeting, based on the results so far, it looks like law enforcement has received more cooperation than it has in the past from a community that has been too intimidated by gangs, and too fearful and suspicious of the police, to help protect themselves from predators.
Here’s hoping for a happy, celebratory – and safe – week at the Rodeo. The complex series of problems confronting Salinas, and the rest of the county, will remain more difficult to lasso.