South City police target gang activity on the home front

Attempting to combat a reported rise in gang violence in South San Francisco, police are launching a unique program that will pair alleged gang members with officers.

The program, to be launched in the spring, comes after a particularly violent 2007 in which three drive-by shootings and an increase in violent assaults occurred, said detective Ken Hancock ofthe South City Police Department.

Hancock attributes the increase in violence to a dozen or so gang members recently released from prison who have made their way back to their hometown as well as an increased number of out-of-town gang members coming to South City.

“Some of the older ones that have gone to prison are getting released and the ones that don’t get jobs, recruit younger kids in the neighborhood and violence gets more intense,” Hancock said. “We want to stop it in its tracks. We can’t keep locking them up — it’s not working. You can arrest them, but they are coming back to our community. Let’s try to catch the few that we can still save.”

One possible solution is to break down the barriers between police and gangs by bringing officers to the homes of alleged gang members.

Making regular visits will show that “it’s not us versus them,” he said. “Kids hate the cops, but if you break down that barrier, then it’s ‘Who am I going to hate now?’ That way, they will have positive contact with the police.”

Tim Gatto of the San Mateo County Probation Department’s Gang Intelligence Unit said he thought the city’s Project Hero program could be very successful.

“By police coming to their house when they are not coming to arrest them, it changes that dynamic,” Gatto said. “It’s thinking of a novel concept and that’s what we have to do in terms of making impacts on the gangs.We have to take different approaches instead of locking them up.”

Gangs have been in South San Francisco since the 1980s, Hancock said, and the town has always been dominated by the Norteno gang, which currently has about 120 members subdivided into Cypress Parks Locos, 500 Block, and C Street. The latest spur of violence, he said, was sparked by the interaction between Nortenos and Surenos, a rival gang that has about 40 local members.

<p>The latest source of worry for police, Hancock said, has been the Surenos’ affiliations with the dangerous MS-13 gang of San Francisco.

“When you see people come from out of town, that concerns us,” Hancock said. “In the 1980s, we came up with ways to deal with it, and we don’t want to go back.”

svasilyuk@examiner.com

By the numbers

The announcement of a new program to be launched by the South San Francisco Police Department comes during a recent upswing in alleged gang activity.

12 arrested gang members released in 2007

15 violent gang-related crimes in 2007 (assaults, stabbings, robbery, 3 drive-by shootings)

505 gang-related graffiti incidents in 2007

Source: SSF Police Department

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