Police: Gang enforcement paying off

With no gang-related homicides this summer — compared with 13 the summer of 2005 — the San Mateo County Gang Task Force is ready to proclaim its efforts success.

The task force, which combines sheriff’s officers with police from agencies throughout the county, patrolled Peninsula streets every night and arrested more than 300 people between late May and late August. Officers believe this approach contributed to the reduction in violence they saw this summer.

“There’s always going to be gang activity, but we’ve done a good job of keeping on top of it,” Redwood City Police Department Capt. Chris Cesena said. “We haven’t had any homicides related to gangs, and I attribute that to the hard work of our teams.”

The shooting deaths of three men at Headquarters Bar in Redwood City in April are not believed to be gang-related, Cesena added.

Putting more criminals behind bars for gang-related offenses — and putting extra conditions on them when they’re released — has also helped curtail gang activity, according to Tim Gatto in the county Probation Department.

“We put extra probation conditions on them, like they can’t be a member of a gang or in the presence of any gang members, parolees or probationers,” Gatto said. Those restrictions prevent gang members from making plans.

Gatto recently interviewed more than a dozen gang members and came away with some potent advice: “One, who is 19, said, ‘Don’t waste your time on us; we’re already the way we’re going to be. Concentrate on the kids.’”

Many groups in San Mateo County are doing just that.

The San Mateo Police Activities League, for example, just received a $15,000 grant that will be used to teach kids and their parents about alternatives to gangs, according to PAL Director Mike Buckle. The first gang-awareness seminars will be held Sept. 13, 20 and 27 at the Shoreview Recreation Center.

Some of the PAL’s other programs, including a new boxing class, have been extremely popular with teens, Buckle said.

“It’s a challenge to find out what these kids want, but we’re not giving up,” project coordinator Eleni Aho said. The Tongan Interfaith Council has also recruited a number of former Tongan gang members who have turned their lives around.

“They will get the message out to these kids that gangs aren’t worth it in the long run,” she said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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