Council Supports Initiative To Fight San Diego Gangs But Requests Details
TOM FUDGE: Last night, the San Diego City Council approved a plan to fight local street gangs. The plan had been put forward by the San Diego commission on gang prevention and intervention, and its approach to keeping gangs from thriving is based on three concepts, prevention, intervention, and suppression. More on that later. San Diego has ninety recognized gangs, with an estimated 4100 members. Police say that one third of all local crime are gang-related, and people agree we should try to support them. But the plan comes with many questions. Last night, the city council unanimously endorsed the plan, but with the caveat that they needed to hear more about what it will cost. We will put that question and many others to two guests, Bishop Bowser and Alan Mobley. Thank you for coming in. Bishop, how would you describe San Diego's gang problem? BISHOP BOWSER: I would describe San Diego's gang problem as a gang problem with the same problems in any city, you have to deal with violence, crime am a and a lot of times people get caught up in the violence of homicides. But they do not realize there are a lot of aggravated assaults, robberies, and burglaries. Even though things have one side of town in San Diego, they are mobile and spread out all over the place. Especially when they want to commit crimes. We need to do something about it, because San Diego is a volatile city, with gangs. You can have 2 to 3 months without incidents, and then there can be a of violence that can go for several months of violence. TOM FUDGE: There are 4100 documented gang members in San Diego, how many are juveniles? Do we know? BISHOP BOWSER: They have 100 juveniles, 4000 adults, and 100 juveniles. TOM FUDGE: Gang violence does go up and down, and the past couple of years I have heard gang-related crime is going down, is that accurate? What can you say about that? BISHOP BOWSER: Based on the San Diego Police Department format that they follow in regards to bring gang crimes, my perspective is a little more those. I would say that aggravated assaults are about the same, homicides go up and down, but aggravated assaults and robberies, those are staying the same and sometimes go up. TOM FUDGE: Last night, the gang commission presented its new initiative to the council, so tell us a little more about that. I think I mentioned the fact it is based on three concepts, will you talk about those? BISHOP BOWSER: The first is dealing with prevention, we get them at preschool and early development. One of the things that we focus on is care to educate agencies about trauma. When you look at our youth and young people today in our communities, we find that they 5% of the young people who experienced violence in the community suffer from PTSD. When it is school violence, some type of violence that happened in the school, young people suffer from PTSD, 77% of them. We want to educate folks on this traumatic care, because when our young folks have been traumatized going to school, in the classroom, and whether they are being antisocial or are following in grades or the other behavioral problems, they do not understand many of these kids suffer from trauma. TOM FUDGE: What is prevention as opposed to intervention or suppression? BISHOP BOWSER: Prevention prevents them from getting into a gang before they do. Based on the SANDAG report, the ages around thirteen years old when young people join gangs. We want to get them before that, to prevent them from getting into a gang. Intervention the is when they are already in a gang, and you want to intervene to get them out. TOM FUDGE: What about suppression? What do you mean by that? BISHOP BOWSER: I look at it in two folds. First, law enforcement gets involved, and they go to the hardened criminals, and the most violent offenders involved, and they tell them, if you do not stop these violent acts we will lock you up. When you look out in the community and see the different acts that were done, the various other gangs, and a group of folks that were arrested and indicted on gang crimes, that suppression and getting them off of the streets. I also look at the wraparound services that are being offered, as a lot of times in our communities were lacking opportunity, job training, and opportunities to have jobs. We want to reach out to them, offer them repaired of services, whether we need mental health or mentors, things like that. That is what suppression looks at, but I look at it as twofold. TOM FUDGE: You were talking about quite a few things here, and I assume San Diego officials have been doing this already. If we look at the plan that you have come up with, what is new? BISHOP BOWSER: I will say two things to that. Number one, when you talk about the police have already been doing a lot of this suppression, but so have we in the community. Pastors, faith-based organizations, we have been doing walks in the hotspots, talking to communities and residents, offering them resources, and talking to gang members on the street. When there are shootings, we go to the hospital to talk to gang members to interrupt the violence to prevent them from retaliating. We mentor a lot of young men. These are things we already doing, but we want to collaborate and bring it all together to have an organized structure, so that the left-hand knows what the right hand is doing. TOM FUDGE: What about the question that the city council asked last night, how much is this going to cost? Is there going to be some kind of cost attached to it? BISHOP BOWSER: I do not want to speak too much on the funding aspect, but I do know that outside of the city would be responsible for, if anything, we're seeking grants to support this, but now we have a strong volunteer support base. TOM FUDGE: All right, and Alan, what would you say is the main reason people join gangs? ALAN MOBLEY: Research has shown that young people in particular are drawn to gangs for a sense of security, family, and some of the issues that Bishop is speaking of about people growing up in neighborhoods of despair, where there are few jobs, poverty, and a strong police presence, these factors often lead to a sense of isolation and alienation from mainstream society. It can result in having difficulty in school. School is the primary representative of mainstream society that most people have contact with, and as kids are entering a period of despair and moving away from conventional paths, they're looking for alternatives. Sometimes, within certain communities, some of the stronger kids may be attracted to alternative lifestyles. It can be appealing when they are strong alternatives. TOM FUDGE: Bowser, I guess I should ask you the question, it's a that you are a member of the crips? Why did you join a gang? BISHOP BOWSER: Yes, the West Coast Crips. Gangs, as a part of a subculture, that when I was coming up, it was something new on the scene. But it comes from being connected with friends, being connected with those who, the way I joined a gang, one of my friends brother was one of the founders of the West Coast Crips. That is how I got involved. But it also has to do with having things to do in your community, being connected with the community, and having a sense of self-esteem about yourself to make healthy decisions. If there was someone to help teach me develop leadership strengths in those areas, I probably could have made better decisions. Because that was not there, and these were the options that were best at the time for me, being caught up with my friends, that led me into the gang. TOM FUDGE: We heard Mister Bowser talk about this. What kind of impact does gang violence have on the community? ALAN MOBLEY: Gang violence has a totally negative impact on the community. This is really where the issue of trauma informed care and practices that Bishop was alluding to really come in. Gang violence means an atmosphere of fear and violence, in certain parts of town the neighborhoods. Old people residing there, working or even passing through have become aware of the situation, especially for residents, and young residents, that can often be a feeling of powerlessness and being at risk. That can show up in family and school life, where we hope that the kids can show up for school, prepared to learn and thrive, as they are coming from an area where basically they are living in fear. That becomes increasingly difficult. TOM FUDGE: Since you are the academic on the panel, what does research show about effective strategies to combat gangs and gang violence? ALAN MOBLEY: I have to applaud the gang commission and what they're doing. They call this a strategic collaborative approach, and that is the exact approach that has been seem to be the most effective. What does not work is the heavy-handed law enforcement approach. I would like to situate this within a larger picture within society, about how our punitive punishment and criminal justice policies have been shifting towards started policies. What restorative suggests is getting to know the individuals were caught up in wrongdoing or crime, and getting to know what the underlying causes and conditions are for their involvement in crime. That can be substandard education, and the lack of employment in community both for adults and young people. We know that the unemployment rate for young people and minorities off the charts, two or three times higher than the population at large. If you are coming in with a punitive approach, saying you need to stop this, we are better and bigger than you are and will put you in person, that can play into the subculture of machismo motto that I think Bishop was alluding to. Coming in with more understanding and offering more than simply punishment is something that is now being explored within the school systems. We have heard recently that San Diego unified is being shifted from a zero-tolerance district to a more restorative district. We have also heard that the state prison system, a few years ago, added the word rehabilitation it back into the title, and in recent years, they are actually making tangible move to go away from punitive warehousing type of approach and bringing back rehabilitation programs. TOM FUDGE: Sorry to interrupt, but we talked about an employment. Mister Bowser, is the gang commission interested in trying to find jobs for kids? BISHOP BOWSER: Absolutely. That is part of the intervention piece, working with the workforce is a, and also getting job preparedness and employment internships that they have of businesses, where they pay them a little bit and hire youth in the summer. One of the things we're working with, we're talking to employers in trying to work out a strategy so we can get some of these young men jobs. One of the problems that we find in helping gang members, and gang involved members to get jobs, a lot of them already have records. A lot of companies today, if you have a felony, they go back seven years, or even further, and you cannot even get a job. Often the crime they committed and the job they are trying to get have nothing to do with each other. I think we have to make people understand, and be more felony friendly. TOM FUDGE: We have talked about powerlessness, despair, and when you join a gang, you have a sense of identity depending on the criminal activity you are involved in, it may even make you money. How do you convince kids are feeling despair, who feel like they do not have any options, to stay away from gangs? BISHOP BOWSER: I believe deals with prevention. If they are not in the gang, if there ever were to send education and mentors, they need men in their lives to mentor them, guide them, and help them set goals. We need that support now community. That is one of the things that were working on but is lacking. People that are in despair, or feeling hopeless, they need to be able to have hope and feel that they can recover some things. TOM FUDGE: Let us talk about, before we end, whether or not you will know, when you will know if you're prevention plan has been successful. I think we now have 3100 gang members in San Diego. If we can get that down to 2000, is that a victory? BISHOP BOWSER: I would not see it as a victory. If you have if you gang members, it is still a problem. One of my goals is to get rid of gangs completely. There have been our culture for at least forty years, especially dealing with black gangs and so forth. We can't measure success there are gangs. There are 4100 and members now, and if there are five members when we finished, you still have 500 that can commit violent acts and do damage in our community. We want to be able to impact people's lives, if we can do that, though make a difference. At least one of my measures of success is if we are able to reach some hardened criminals, violent offenders who have influence to recruit and keep the gang going, if I can get them out of the gangs and offer support for them, and get them develop leadership skills, and let them be a positive influence in their community, I think that a success and that is where we make a big difference. TOM FUDGE: Alan, would you like a last word? ALAN MOBLEY: Sure. Something I would like to add, when we talk about providing alternatives for young people and those who are not yet in gangs, most of these people are not making much money. They operate with low levels of profit, this tremendous danger and what they do, and profits are sometimes taken over by others. Getting to offer them entry-level positions and soft skills that allow them to find, get, and retain jobs, that is critical. It is just a mistake to think that they are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a day, and it takes a lot to pull them out of this lifestyle. The facts are otherwise.
A city commission’s plan to address San Diego's gang activity gained the support of City Council Monday evening, but members said it lacked details.
Violent crime at the hands of gang members in San Diego has declined over the years, but police say the gang scene here is still at least 4,000 members strong. To address gang activity, the Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention proposed Monday a three-stage initiative that begins as early as preschool.
Although Councilwoman Marti Emerald was absent, the nine-member council unanimously accepted the concept outlined in the commission’s 2015-2017 Strategic Initiative Plan, but Council President Todd Gloria said he expected the volunteer group to provide more details on what the plan would cost the city.
"There are no real numbers affixed to it — there are timelines, there are objectives but there are no dollar figures attached," Gloria said.
In a Sept. 9 memo to City Council, the commission's executive director Lynn Sharpe-Underwood referenced the group's $10,000 request for training for community members, but a spokeswoman for Gloria said that was not part of the council's action Monday night.
In response to Gloria, Sharpe-Underwood said the group would provide details on funding at its next report to the Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee.
Councilman Scott Sherman suggested portions of the youth empowerment initiative could be supported by community organizations, instead of solely relying on public dollars.
“A lot of times in this discussion we get involved and wrapped up into government money, government programs, what can government go, but I think we lose sight of sometimes is what can the community do as well,” he said.
Sherman also asked for a list of groups that address gang activity that community members can support or join.
The commission's Community Focused Youth Empowerment Initiative focuses on the prevention, intervention and suppression of gang activity.
The prevention stage targets young children through their instructors and after-school program staff members. The commission wants to inform them how to help kids overcome trauma and bullying. Additionally, the plan supports home visits to expectant mothers and families impacted by gang violence.
The next stage — intervention — focuses on developing more employment opportunities for teens and 20 somethings. The commission also wants to help youth establish positive relationships with adults and suggested expanding an after-hours program that lets youths interact with non-uniform police.
At the Monday meeting, Councilwoman Myrtle Cole proposed the idea of connecting youth who are interested in after-hours programs with senior citizens at some of the city's nursing facilities.
The final step — suppression — addresses areas with high gang activity. The goal is to establish relationships between prominent community members and police officers so together they can make a connection with gang leaders.