A turf war broke out on the Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday over whether the city is doing enough to measure the effectiveness of its gang prevention efforts, with rival council members sparring over whether the debate was a legitimate issue or political posturing.
Following a presentation by police Chief Tom Schwedhelm about the department’s efforts to track gang crime statistics, Councilman Gary Wysocky tussled with Mayor Ernesto Olivares, a former police lieutenant who headed the city’s gang prevention programs from 2006 to 2008.
Wysocky, citing a January Police Department analysis of five years of gang crime data, sought to portray the city’s efforts as falling short of goals.
“Promises were made, and one of the promises was we’re going to cut gang crime in half by 2010,” Wysocky said. “These numbers say it hasn’t happened. We haven’t even come close.”
Olivares said he “took offense” at Wysocky trying to use a report to “muddy the waters” and mislead the public by inappropriately comparing two sets of data.
“It’s almost like yelling fire in a theater. It’s not happening,” Olivares said. “People see that this city is much safer and much different because of the efforts that have been put out by this community working together.”
Following a particularly testy exchange between the two, Councilman Scott Bartley weighed in on the motivations at play in the debate. “I smell election in the air,” Bartley said, calling the issue a “tempest in a teapot.”
Both Wysocky and Olivares are up for re-election this fall.
But others backed Wysocky’s concerns.
Lisa Maldonado, executive director of the North Bay Labor Council, previously served on the Measure O Oversight Committee and said it was “very frustrating” to not have gang crime statistics provided despite repeated requests. She praised Wysocky for questioning the numbers, which she called “half-baked.”
Schwedhelm explained that the Police Department began providing gang crime statistics to the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force in 2006, but that effort stopped in 2008 when, facing budget cuts, a decision was made to stop doing so.
“We were looking at do we keep the uniform on the street, or do we lose people from behind the scenes?” Schwedhelm said.
That crime analyst function has now returned, thanks to a federal grant. Gang crime statistics are again being produced, but year-to-year comparisons are not possible because the methodologies have changed, the chief said.
Wysocky said he never recalled being told that the budget cuts would hamper the city’s ability to track the success of its gang crime efforts, and said he was “mystified” by how years of data could now be invalid.
“The public is spending millions of dollars and we’re not telling them whether it’s successful or not,” he said.
Councilwoman Susan Gorin said she didn’t think the issue was “an election ploy,” but rather spoke to “the accountability built into Measure O,” the quarter-cent sales tax passed in 2004 to support police, fire and gang prevention services.
“We have a responsibility to track some kind of statistics in order to prove whether or not that money has been effectively expended,” Gorin said.
Schwedhelm urged council members not to look to a single statistic to gauge the effectiveness of an entire program.
“With an issue as dynamic and complicated as gang prevention, there is not that one magic bullet, that one magic thing that will lead to our success,” he said.
Other metrics he uses include prosecution rates, quality of the investigations and connections gang prevention officers make with the community, such as with the children at Kawana Springs Elementary School, where a gang-related stabbing occurred early last year.
“Very few of those can you put a number to, but those are the things that I use to help evaluate our effectiveness,” Schwedhelm said.
Later in the meeting, the council approved the creation of a new anti-gang position with a salary of up to $119,000, a 20 percent increase over the amount previously paid for the post.
Several members of the public said the salary was too high and would be better used on programs, also noting that the person hired for the job should be bilingual and multi-cultural.
Councilman John Sawyer said the residents who voted for Measure O and the families affected by gang violence deserve a qualified person in the position.
“I wanted to do it a couple of years ago. We were outvoted. I think we should move forward,” he said.
The measure passed 6-1, with Wysocky voting against it.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org.