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SD Cities Awarded Grants For Gang Violence Prevention

— Three cities in San Diego County were awarded state grants of nearly $370,000 each to continue gang violence prevention programs, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced Friday.

The money will go to the cities of Chula Vista, Oceanside and San Diego for programs that bring together police departments with other city agencies and community organizations to keep youngsters away from gangs.

The city of San Diego received a similar grant two years ago, and spends the money to allow recreation centers in gang-plagued neighborhoods to remain open on Friday nights.

The city's efforts also include programs by Metro United Methodist Urban Ministry, police officers who work with families to steer youth away from gangs, and curfew and truancy sweeps.

"We'll use that money to keep young people from joining gangs, and keep gangs away from young people," San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said at a news conference.

David Ramirez, an assistant chief with the San Diego Police Department, said gang-related crimes in areas currently served by the program, in the Central and Southeastern divisions, is down 37 percent from last year.

Gang homicides are down 63 percent citywide, Ramirez said.

Intervention and prevention "makes a huge difference," Ramirez said.

He said many gang offenders who are arrested have little brothers, and the program helps fund officers who will try to keep such family members onto the right track.

Stacey LoMedico, the director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said the grant will keep recreation centers open for programs on Friday nights in Southcrest and Memorial, and will allow for expansion into City Heights and Encanto. Additional money might separately be found to continue the later hours in Mountain View, she said.

The programs, like movies, arts and crafts, and softball games against police officers, serve about 3,000 youngsters, LoMedico said.

The 24 grant awards statewide totaling $9.2 million were announced by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said 36 communities applied.

"My administration is committed to fighting gang violence with a comprehensive approach that will keep our youth on the right track with early intervention and coordinated anti-gang efforts," Schwarzenegger said.

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