Increased gang violence in both Santa Paula and Ventura has prompted law enforcement officials to establish a joint gang task force between the two cities, Santa Paula Police Chief Walt Adair announced Friday.
Adair characterized the emerging gang problem in Santa Paula as "extremely violent," according to a report released Friday to members of the City Council.
"The violence occurring in both cities is intolerable, and is degrading the quality of life and the image and general feeling of safety in both communities," Adair said.
Adair on Friday deferred all comments on his report until Monday's City Council meeting, at which he will ask council members to approve an intensified program of stepped-up law enforcement and removal of gang graffiti.
Law enforcement officials have been concerned about the escalation of drive-by shootings between the rival Santa Paula gangs--the Party Boyz and the Crimies. Another youth gang, the Crazy Boyz, has also been active in Santa Paula.
Santa Paula's gang violence has spilled over into drive-by attacks against the Ventura gang called the Avenue Gangsters, Adair said.
The Santa Paula police chief met last week with Ventura Police Chief Richard Thomas to discuss joint efforts at combatting the gang problem. Thomas was not available Friday for comment.
In his report to the council, Adair recommended the formation of a gang task force, made up of police officers from Ventura and Santa Paula who would be responsible for tracking and identifying gang members and illegal weapons. Adair has already assigned three police officers to focus on identifying and tracking gangs in Santa Paula.
A second element of the strategy is a program to remove gang-related markings from public and private property in Santa Paula. The graffiti program would cost $5,000 to $8,000 and be financed by assets seized during police raids.
It is patterned after one used in the city of Ventura, Santa Paula City Administrator Bob Livingstone said. The city will also set up a graffiti hot line, he said.
Livingstone said he hopes the graffiti program will serve as "a signal that there's going to be some increased attention on gang problems."
Two Santa Paula City Council members said Friday that they support the police chief's plan.
"We're establishing a more definite policy as far as the gangs are concerned," Councilman Carl Barringer said. "We just want to make sure it's clear to them it's not acceptable."
Barringer said he became concerned about public safety after a rash of violence hit the city last month, including one gang-related death.
On May 28, Samuel Ruiz, 40, was shot and killed after a fight erupted between Ruiz and his next-door neighbor, Delfino Lopez, 43. The two men had been arguing about a fight that involved their two sons, both allegedly members of rival gangs.
Two days later, two Santa Paula men were charged in connection with a May 18 drive-by shooting in Ventura aimed at a rival gang member.
Councilman Les Maland said he plans to ask the police chief to elaborate on the plan to fight gang violence. He said he is concerned about the use of illegal weapons by gang members.
"With these drive-by shootings, someday they're going to kill someone, and it could be someone who is not connected with it at all," Maland said.
Adair in his report cautioned that stepped-up police enforcement alone will not end gang activity.
"Law enforcement is only a part of the solution," Adair said. "The successful gang strategy on the part of the law enforcement agencies involved is a key element in a community's effort to resolve problems created by youth gangs."