Special city-sponsored group touts success in reducing crime and educating youth.The City of Santa Clarita formed an Anti-Gang Task force back in 1991, and since then the group has worked to tackle gang violence and crime in the SCV.
The Gang Outreach Committee, formed in 2007 as a subcommittee of the Anti-Gang Task Force, reached out to hundreds of local youth in 2008. Group members hosted gang awareness presentations at local youth facilities to help deter them from the lifestyle and Committee members implemented POWER (Peers on the Way to Everlasting Recovery) – a male mentoring program at the City’s Newhall Community Center.
Gang-affiliated teens participated in weekly discussions and attended field trips dealing with diverse issues affecting behavior and choices. High risk youth were also able to find employment through the Youth Employment Services (YES) program, an Anti-Gang Task Force, city-funded program.
Gang Outreach Committee members also assisted with the formation of the Valle Del Oro Neighborhood Committee which aims to empower neighbors to take a stand against crime, graffiti and gangs in their neighborhood. The committee boasts over fifty members who hosted a “Cultural Walk” to foster cultural sensitivity and understanding among neighbors, worked with residents to report graffiti and illegally parked vehicles, and saw that resident requests for increased lighting were approved by the City. Committee and Task Force members are currently working to form a similar committee in the Canyon Springs area of Canyon Country in 2009.
One of the key Anti-Gang Task Force partners is the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Department, specifically COBRA – the Gang and Juvenile Violence Crime Unit. COBRA made many crucial arrests in gang related cases in 2008 and added “Frank Unit” patrol cars to respond to gang-related calls. Additionally, the department conducted “Operation Community Shield”, which resulted in the detainment of 21 locally active foreign-national gang members.
Last year’s Mayor Bob Kellar’s Public Safety Program also hosted “Gang Awareness Month” in August. Nearly 300 residents attended gang awareness presentations, including the “Save our Youth” violence prevention presentation, where two former gang members whose lives were adversely affected by gang violence (and are now in wheelchairs) spoke to teens about the dangers of gangs and drugs.
In addition to these accomplishments, the Task Force is hoping to make an even bigger impact on the City in 2009. Members are working with local colleges to find mentors for youth and young adults who are at-risk, and City Community Services staff also submitted a grant application to the Office of Emergency Services Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention Program requesting $500,000 in grant funding to decrease gang-related crime. If received, funding will be used to promote gang suppression and education, and implement the POWER program.