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Judging Santa Rosa’s anti-gang efforts

Sgt. Rainer Navarro, center, and his Gang Crimes Team conduct a probation search at Motel 6 North in Santa Rosa on Friday night. (JOHN BURGESS / PD)

By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Since 2004, when Santa Rosa voters approved Measure O, taxpayers have spent more than $7 million on gang prevention and intervention programs.

The goal has been to undermine the growing influence of gangs by supporting programs to reform existing gang members and keep at-risk youth from being drawn to gangs.

To ensure the programs were effective, the city’s gang-prevention officials vowed to work with the Santa Rosa Police Department to closely track gang crime statistics in the city.

Members of the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force committed to “develop a standard statistical reporting format” allowing “community decision makers to quickly and easily understand and interpret gang-related criminal data and trends.”

Seven years into the program, that hasn’t happened.

As a result, the issue of the effectiveness of anti-gang efforts — and the need for a $119,000-a-year gang czar — is likely to dominate Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm will brief the council on how he measures the success of the department’s gang crime strategy.

The Police Department tracked gang crime statistics using one system before 2007, stopped doing it at all from 2008 to 2010 because of budget cuts, and now is using a new method that cannot be compared to previous years.

The changes have made it impossible for the department to say with certainty whether gang crime, which city officials vowed to cut in half by 2010, is up or down.

That troubles Councilman Gary Wysocky, who says the public deserves clear data about whether or not the city’s gang-prevention programs are working.

“We’ve spent millions of dollars and we have no idea to what effect?” Wysocky said last week.

The debate also will offer a preview of what could become an issue in the upcoming election cycle between two political rivals. Mayor Ernesto Olivares, a former police officer who once headed the city’s anti-gang efforts, and Wysocky, who has expressed concern about the growing costs of police services, are both up for re-election this fall.

Olivares said the city’s programs are successful and are being regularly measured to ensure the city’s safety net for kids is as strong as possible.

Gang crime statistics are one tool, but budget cuts approved by the council limited the department’s ability to gather and analyze that data. The recent return of that capability is cause for celebration, not criticism, he said.

“That’s why I’m excited to have it back, because it’s going to help us do things we said we were going to do,” Olivares said. “It’s the missing piece.”

In 2003, in response to rising gang violence, the city established the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force, a partnership of city and county agencies, schools and nonprofit groups.

The goal was to get away from enforcement-only gang strategy in favor of a communitywide approach that would foster nurturing, supportive environments for kids and counter the lure of gang life.

The following year, voters passed Measure O, a 20-year, quarter-cent sales tax whose funds are divided 40 percent to police, 40 percent to fire and 20percent to gang prevention. The tax originally was projected to raise about $7 million a year. The recession caused that figure to drop below $6 million in 2010, but revenues have since rebounded somewhat.

The gang-prevention program is run out of the city’s Recreation, Parks & Community Services Department. It includes after-school programs, grants to organizations for youth and parenting programs focusing on gang and antiviolence education, and programs for kids and job training and social programs for adults through the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program.

After the departure of the first program manager in 2006, Olivares, who was then a police lieutenant, took over the position. Members of the task force talked up the city’s “state of the art” gang-prevention program and promised it would cut gang violence in half by 2010.

But defining what constitutes a gang crime was challenging, Olivares said. “Back then and even today we were grappling with this definition of what is a gang crime?”

The task force and Police Department settled on a definition that is broader than what a community facing far more serious gang crime issues, like Salinas, might use, Olivares said.

The definition reached after “extensive research” remains the following:

“A gang-related incident is defined as an incident where there is a reasonable suspicion that the individual who is involved with the incident has been or is currently associated with criminal gang activity, or where the totality of the circumstances indicates that the incident is consistent with criminal street gang activity.”

The department has struggled with how to collect the new statistics, which unlike other crimes such as homicide and burglary, it is not required to track.

Crime analysts initially needed to manually review all of the department’s 20,000 annual crime reports to ensure the data were being properly captured.

The goal was to establish a baseline, follow results over time and report them to the task force and the public, according to the task force’s 2008-2012 strategic plan.

For a time, the task force was receiving such reports. But budget cuts in 2008 forced the department to eliminate the crime analyst position in favor of preserving officers on the street, Schwedhelm said.

“We made a strategic decision … to keep the uniformed cops out on the street because that’s what the public wants,” Schwedhelm said.

The loss of that position meant there was no one to manually gather the data. Officers were still supposed to mark reports involving gang incidents with a G, but they weren’t always doing so, said Schwedhelm, who became acting chief in 2009.

Following the reinstatement of the crime analyst position in 2010, a new system was implemented that gave all 83 patrol officers additional training about when to mark gang-related incident reports. Crime analysts and gang crime experts vet the reports, adding or removing gang designations after additional review.

The result is a new set of data that cannot be compared with previous years because the methodology has changed, Schwedhelm said.

The inability to compare current statistics with previous years is “totally frustrating,” he said.

For example, because the new system only captures some of the gang crime incidents from past years, looking strictly at that data shows eye-popping increases in gang crime. A recent report distributed to City Council members appears to show total gang-related crimes up 346percent between 2007 and 2011 and violent gang crimes up 274 percent.

But that same report strongly warns against making year-to-year comparisons for “conclusions or policy decisions.”

Schwedhelm said he is confident the new statistics are better and will provide a baseline from which future years will be compared.

“It’s the right thing to do. We had to start somewhere,” Schwedhelm said. “We’re more accurately capturing the reality of what’s going on out on the street in Santa Rosa.”

Wysocky remains skeptical. If the years aren’t comparable, the methodology is either wrong now or was wrong then, he said.

“You can’t have it both ways,” he said.

Absent clear data, Wysocky said he doesn’t support spending more money on the gang-prevention manager position, as the human resources director is proposing Tuesday to the council.

The city wants to increase the salary by as much as 20 percent, to just shy of $119,000 a year, saying the job responsibilities have grown.

The first person to hold the job was Dawn Dolan, an educator from Michigan with no gang-prevention experience. She made $68,940 a year. Olivares replaced her in 2006, keeping his $130,080 salary, which grew to $146,540 by the time he retired two years later.

The city acknowledged that the position was “overfilled” while Olivares, a 30-year police veteran, held the post. After Olivares retired, Marc Richardson, director of Recreation, Parks and Community Services, requested the human resources department study the job responsibilities and set a salary.

It concluded the position should be set at a deputy director-level salary, with a ceiling of $129,840. That was rejected by the council in 2009.

Ellen Bailey, who was running the department on an interim basis, was later promoted to the manager post at a lower salary. By the time she retired late last year, she was making $99,730 a year. She has been rehired as a part-time employee until the position can be refilled, said Fran Elm, the city’s human resources director.

Wysocky has asked whether the job could be filled as a lesser-paid coordinator position.

“I have seen nothing that justifies this type of salary for this position,” he said.

Bailey said that as part of the job, she traveled across the state and worked closely with police chiefs, school superintendents and others mapping out broad policy directions, responsibilities that are clearly at the level of a deputy director.

On the issue of accountability, she said she finds it “bizarre” for people to expect such a complex problem to be measurable with a single statistic.

The task force exhaustively analyzes its programs, including surveying participants, using third parties to assess the effectiveness and writing detailed reports, Bailey said. It regularly tracks statistics such as truancy rates, graduation rates, school API scores and the number of youths who identify themselves as being in a gang, Bailey said.

“We know if those things are going in the right direction, we are going in the right direction,” she said.

One such statistic is key in her mind — youth violence. It’s down 32 percent between 2005 and 2010. Another statistic shows juvenile weapons offenses are down 52 percent over the same period.

Even though the Police Department wasn’t able to consistently gather gang crime data, the program is still accountable to the public, she said.

“The gang problem is communitywide and it’s complex,” she said, “and evaluating ways to measure our success is complex also.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com.





22 Responses to “Judging Santa Rosa’s anti-gang efforts”

  1. Jim Bennett says:

    Town with a stimulated economy = jobs,
    have less gang activity.

    Set the Free Market free.

  2. Reality says:

    Fiscal Conservative is on target with his assessment…

    If the laws already in exisistence were only enforced many of these crimes and criminals would be dealt with. However, due to political motivations our District Attorney, Sheriff (both elected) and Police Chiefs (appointed ‘at will’ position) decide to make up their own rules influenced by politics and not the concern for a safer community.

    In simpler terms, if you want to stay in office DON’T ROCK THE BOAT…

    ENFORCE THE LAW(S)…. PLAIN & SIMPLE.

    Don’t accomodate a segment of society because your worried about re-election. It seems to me to be criminal when the law is not followed and exceptions are made for certain people and their citizen status.

  3. Fiscal Conservative says:

    I guess entering data on a spreadsheet is just too difficult for City administrators.

    If we can not show the program is working then end it. Families can use the money to support themselves.

    If the City truely wants to stop crime, they simply need to issue more private concealed carry permits and call INS when booking illegals. Operation capture and deport. Budget cost $0

    We need reform, but it’s not with the gangmembers. It’s with our social program agenda polititians.

  4. Money Grubber says:

    Just an FYI for those of you who only read the Press Democrat.

    You should immediately google the current important news item that the Press Democrat ignored yesterday and today.

    The independent, non partisan California State Legislative Analyst Office just released a report that exposes the state’s debt as being BILLIONS OF DOLLARS higher than Governor Brown admits.

    The extra debt means California is actually 13.5 BILLION DOLLARS in debt even as Gov Brown is claiming the debt “only” 9 billion.

    The criminal government continues to threaten YOUR childs education and YOUR ability to buy gas by demanding higher taxes from YOU so the government can go about business as usual without any thinking at all about what they are doing.

    Google the story. The Press Democrat is refusing to cover that important issue that affects you and your family.

  5. Sandy M says:

    I got my information from Sonoma Watch articles. Question their sources. As for the dogfigthing, I did an internet search and came up with nothing. I asked the DA’s office and came up with nonanswers. Those are all my sources. All public sources. If the PD is not getting accurate facts for their stories, then shame on them.

    If you think there isn’t dogfighting going on in this County you would be incorrect, it is happening. Your public is very aware of it and has been screaming for the County and City to do something.

  6. The Oracle says:

    You’ve got to love that vague definition of a gang-related crime. That makes it easier to adjust the stats each year, establish a desirable trend, and justify that gang czar’s salary. Leave to Santa Rosa’s corrupt “pro-business” (Republican) majorities to turn gang prevention and aftercare into a windfall for its politically-corrupt police. In the meantime, the actual Parks and Recs Dept faces devastating cuts.

  7. Local Politics says:

    The thing that is missing is good old police work- get out of the station, get off ur butts, and get out there and catch these guys, prevent them, harrass them, be in their face, make life miserable for gang bangers- there is no constitutional rights to be a thug/gang member. So get out there, take names, kick butt, bust em, stay on them, put em away, and keep them down -and the rest of us live in peace. HAMMER these punks.

  8. Money Grubber says:

    Sandy M.:

    You threw out some numbers without any explanation as to where they came from or who compiled them.

    The police and the DA’s Office have a motive to inflate the numbers to try and increase their funding. That would be called lying.

    What is the definition of a “gang member” and who defined it? The gang police, of course.

    But not everyone agrees. Recall when someone in Sonoma County government was claiming, falsely, that the “bomb squad” had a call for duty nearly every day two years ago ? The LIES continue from government to fund their cozy lifestyle.

    As for the big story of the day? Gov Brown’s revenue is falling further behind than what he claimed he would have. By BILLIONS. Google the story that just broke. You won’t find it in the Press Democrat as they focus on motorcyclists hitting cows.

  9. BigDogatPlay says:

    The program must be having some effect…. transplanted LA gang bangers are shooting off their guns around subsidized housing in Windsor now, according to today’s Peedee.

    The time to get serious about gangs has long past. Unless or until we as a nation of laws are willing to take the cuffs off of our police and start incarcerating gangsters for meaningful sentences, and deporting the illegal immigrants among them when caught for other crimes, it is only going to get worse.

    And I suspect that SoCo has not the stomach for what needs to happen, no matter how many innocents are hurt or killed.

  10. good one says:

    Gary Wysocky can find the money to put in his bike lanes, bridges and a law suit over a non existing easement. That he can find the money for. Huh.

  11. Sandy M says:

    Prosecutors Office = 400 Gang Member/Gang Related Cases prosecuted last year

    City Council = Gang Related Crimes up 347%

    Dog Fighting = No Arrest, Not Prosecuted, Not investigated, Dogs Abused and Killed

    Why is it our County and City Government continue to keep their heads in the sand on this one and the people that live in the communities know more then you?

  12. Reality Check says:

    That government departments seek to inflate their importance and success, and expand in size is hardly noteworthy. After reading this article, why would anyone think the “task force” understands the cause of youth gangs or is successful at fighting them?

    Take one young male (usually new to the country), raise him without making an effort to assimilate into America, and do so without the benefit of a supporting father in the household, and you’ve produced a likely gang member.

    Recreation programs are fun. Are they an antidote to the above? Yes, that was a stupid question.

  13. Joseph says:

    Ever notice in baseball, the hitters erase the batters box. Eliminating the matrix gathering is in the sphere of deception. Sonoma county law enforcement has been humiliated in court by expert testament by out side agencies over their corrupt practices. The time has come to stand down and end training at Santa Rosa Junior College until the corruption can be eliminated. We have a systemic problem that begins with the training they are receiving.

  14. Money Grubber says:

    Bear:

    Tell us what government “services” you refer to ?

    Your usual responses are notoriously void of FACTS.

    Be specific.

  15. Skippy says:

    @bear
    You have a consistently creepy habit of asking for the most personal info about fellow posters.
    Nobody is going to expose themselves like that.
    It is remarkably improper of you to keep asking.
    I suggest you post the same about yourself before asking it of others.

  16. bear says:

    @moneygrubber

    Yes, budget cuts mean service cuts.

    Tell us your job and source of income?

  17. Joseph says:

    Borrowing a page from Fathers Against Daughters Dating: Kill the first one, word will spread. Of the last 23 officer involved shootings, 18 have been mental health clients. You think they would execute criminals over the disabled.

  18. Barbara Green says:

    What are these lunatics thinking at city hall? First, they con the voters out of millions for a non-existence gang prevention program. Then they don’t keep records, then they say “sorry, just a budget cut and we are too busy to be bothered with gathering numbers.

    Well that isn’t good enough. Somebody needs to be held accountable for this fiasco. That somebody is the City Manager, the Mayor, the Police Chief and the totally inexperienced person they put in charge of the mess.

    This whole thing is gross incompetence costing the taxpayers millions and doing nothing to reduce gangs or control gang activity in Santa Rosa.

    Enough of these welfare jobs for poor little college kids who need a job. There needs to be a grand jury investigation at least. The principles will not tell us where the bodies are buried to protect themselves and the gang members aren’t talking.

    Another great example of government at its best in the peoples republic of Santa Rosa.

  19. CityGal says:

    The “budget cut” I referred to was the elimination of a crime analyst position in the police department in 2008. The elimination of that position resulted in a reduction in service — “there was no one to manually gather the [gang crime] data”.

  20. Money Grubber says:

    CityGal must be a public employee to claim, falsely, that a budget cut resulted in a “reduction in service.”

    First CityGal makes the assumption that the budget was not bloated and inflated to begin with which it was. Reducing a bloated budget merely means forcing the counties and the cities to put their money where it belongs rather than dubious programs like the un-necessary “bomb squad.”

    Secondly, Councilman Gary Wysocky is absolutely correct when he questions millions of dollars of tax money spent without any assurance statistically that the money spent actually did what it was supposed to do. In fact, the smoke screen created by the police likely was intended to cover for their lack of progress rather than for any other reason.

    Thirdly, the Mayor of Santa Rosa is a retired cop and we all know that cops cover for one another. We should NEVER vote another retired cop into office because they cannot be trusted to do the right thing on behalf of the community rather than cover for failures on the part of their buddies in uniform.

  21. GAJ says:

    For every action (unsustainable pay and benefits) there is an equal and opposite reaction (reduction in service).

  22. CityGal says:

    “…budget cuts in 2008 forced the [police] department to eliminate the crime analyst position in favor of preserving officers on the street”. To rephrase Isaac Newton: For every action (budget cut) there is an equal and opposite reaction (reduction in service).