Elementary school students carrying weapons, bullying, and the need for after-school programs for youths were among the topics discussed Monday at a town hall meeting in San Jose on the local impact of street gangs. More than 100 people attended the meeting, which was sponsored by the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force and held at the Bascom Community Center. The session was the second of four forums scheduled by the task force in different San Jose neighborhoods to gather information for its 2014-2016 Strategic Work Plan, which will outline a gang-suppression strategy for the city.
The task force, created by Mayor Susan Hammer in 1991, prepares a strategic plan every three years based in large part on what residents report about gang activities, Mayor Chuck Reed said. “We’ve been at it a long time and it takes a lot of people to build this model,” Reed told the audience. “What we do is figure out what works, evaluate it and then as things change and the gangs evolve, we evolve,” Reed said. The last strategic plan three years ago was based on research data and the input of more than 1,000 people, Reed said. “We learned a couple of things,” Reed said.
“The first was, we need to get our faith leaders to get more engaged in a big way, and we need to get our schools more engaged in a big way. So we’ve worked really hard in the last three years to do that.” Following brief remarks by Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen and City Council members Pete Constant and Pierluigi Oliverio, San Jose police Deputy Chief Jeff Marozick discussed how gang crimes in the city had declined from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31 this year compared to the same period last year. Gang-related homicides in that period fell from 14 in 2012 to eight this year, and aggravated assaults, robberies and simple assaults were also down, for a total reduction of nearly 19 percent in gang crimes, Marozick said.
The Police Department’s Gang Suppression Unit has aided in the reduction by targeting gang hot spots and specific individuals tied to past gang crimes, but preventive measures are needed at the family level, Marozick said. “We don’t stop gang crime,” Marozick said. “It really stops at home.” Mario Maciel, the division manager of the task force, had the audience break up into five groups and meet in separate rooms, where city employees took down specific reports from residents of western San Jose about gang activities.
Three of the group discussions were conducted in English and two in Spanish. The people in each group were then asked to rank the three biggest problems they see caused by gangs in their neighborhoods and the best ways to solve them. After the individual groups met, representatives from each one spoke to the entire audience on their findings. Some residents complained that elementary school children as young as first-graders take weapons — specifically knives — to school to protect themselves from other kids who are encouraged by gang members to carry weapons.
Others described car thefts, intimidation by armed gang members, the sale of synthetic THC and the drug ecstasy, graffiti on sound walls and pedestrian bridges, verbal abuse of kids during and after school, cyber bullying, car racing on city streets and groups drinking alcohol in parks. Proposed solutions suggested by group members included more after-school programs for elementary school students and teenagers such as homework centers and sports, parenting classes and greater mentoring efforts by teachers.
At the end of the two-hour session, Maciel said that the city would submit its proposed strategic plan to the City Council in April, incorporating reports and suggestions from the town hall meetings. The two more meetings are planned, on Nov. 7 at the Southside Community Center at 5585 Cottle Road and Nov. 14 at the Roosevelt Community Center, 901 E. Santa Clara St. The first meeting took place last Monday at Overfelt High School. All of the meetings start at 6 p.m.
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