A special enforcement team with the Watsonville Police Department has made nine arrests and contacted 32 suspected gang members or associates since Monday in response to a recent spike in gang violence, officials said. Watsonville City Manager Carlos Palacios has allowed police officers to work overtime on enforcement and gang suppression efforts and the Police Department has added a team of officers working seven days a week to curb gang crimes, police Lt. Saul Gonzales said.
The team started working on Monday and in addition to the nine arrests and 32 gang-related contacts, it conducted nine probation and parole searches, issued citations and confiscated a firearm from a gang member, according to Gonzales. Palacios said the city has seen an increase in gang violence over the past couple of months, including three gang-related homicides. Gonzales said while upticks in gang crimes in the city happen throughout the year “there have a lot of events lately,” some attributed to retaliation clashes between members of Norteno and Sureno street gangs.
Gang members involved in the crime wave are “all from Watsonville and they’re getting younger and younger, and more violent younger,” Gonzales said. Watsonville police have recently arrested gang members on murder charges who were as young as 12 and 13 years of age and the city has not seen this level of violence in years past, he said. Palacio said the city hopes to benefit in the coming year from a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in November to be used to add seven officers to the 68 now on its force.
Gonzales said the new officers would give the department the ability to be more proactive in investigating and preventing gang crimes, because due to low staffing, the department currently has to focus mainly on answering calls for service. The enhanced enforcement actions in Watsonville will continue for the foreseeable future, with police joining forces with the Santa Cruz County Gang Task Force, the county Probation Department and state Division of Adult Parole Operations, Gonzales said.
Watsonville Mayor Nancy Bilicich has asked the City Council hold a special meeting on Jan. 7 to address the current outbreak of gang violence and hear on update from the Police Department on the status of enforcement measures, Gonzales said. The department plans to deliver a more detailed report at the council’s next regular meeting on Jan. 15, he said. In a prepared statement, Bilicich said that Watsonville is “a safe community and I have full faith in our Police Department. Nevertheless, the recent upsurge in violence is of great concern and I want the public to know we are taking steps to address it.”
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