On a Saturday morning in June, 20-year-old Jorge Matias was walking down Elkington Avenue in Salinas when he was shot numerous times and killed. He became the 16th person murdered in the city this year, and police officers say the shooting was tied to a gang-related motive.
Shootings in Salinas often mirror these details, and witnesses rarely come forward with information, making it hard for authorities to nab suspects. But officers usually know which one of the more than a dozen gangs roaming the city was involved, and a plan to use that knowledge to reduce fatal and non-lethal shootings is underway.
After a three-year hiatus brought about by budget cuts, Salinas is bringing back Project Safe Neighborhoods, formerly known as Ceasefire.
“We know who the violent offenders are, who the active gang members are,” Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin says, “but no one ever tells them to knock it off and how they are hurting the community.”
But a gangster won’t stop being a gangster just because a cop told him to. Instead, officers will get trained to direct young people to service providers who can help them get jobs in the agricultural and hospitality industries in lieu of the gang lifestyle.
The program will also help law enforcement identify potential suspects based on their anticipated risk level and gang involvement, using data collection from past shooting and analysis of social networks.
The program is costly. The California Office of Emergency Services awarded the police department a $222,726 grant to cover half the cost, and the city agreed June 14 to match that amount to fuel research, enforcement and training for officers. Funding for this effort will run until Aug. 31, 2017.
The Ceasefire program has proven successful in 60 cities across the country. In Boston, where it originated, there was a 27-percent reduction in shootings among violent groups that police reached out to.