Summertime anti-gang efforts heating up

San Mateo County law-enforcement officials are out on the streets to prevent a repeat of last year's spike in gang activity.

The summer of 2005 was a hot one for Peninsula gangs, sparking a wave of retaliatory violence that left several dead.

Last summer, the county's gang task force — a consortium of 35 officers from 20 police agencies and the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office — didn't hit the streets until September. This year, it rolled out in May.

The group has already netted 90 arrests; nine real and replica guns; dealer-sized hauls of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine; and the identification of 46 new gang members, according to San Mateo County sheriff's Capt. Don O'Keefe. As of 2005, there were more than 2,300 suspected or known gang members in the county, according to sheriff's Sgt. Tom Gallagher.

“We areout in front of this,” San Mateo police Capt. Mike Callaghy said.

Officers are seeing a gradual upswing in gang activity this summer, rather than a spike, according to county deputy probation officer Tim Gatto.

“We haven't, thank God, had the critical incidents we had last year,” Redwood City police Capt. Chris Cesena said.

A grand jury report released last week said that a probation office program that placed officers in local schools has resulted in a dramatic reduction in violence.

City and county agencies contributed significant funding to anti-gang efforts last year. The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors set aside $500,000 to help the gang task force organize, and the Redwood City Council gave its police department $200,000 for additional officers last fall. But neither of those contributions has been renewed, according to Cesena and O'Keefe.

Meanwhile, officers are looking for more permanent solutions. In cities such as San Mateo and Redwood City, Police Activities Leagues offer summer programs to keep youths busy and out of trouble.

This summer, the probation department is working with the Tongan Interfaith Council to connect at-risk Pacific Islander teens with fun activities and mentorship arrangements. “We want kids to be drawn to these activities rather than 'the dark side' of gangs, drugs and violence,” county Chief Probation Officer Loren Buddress said.

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