PLACENTIA — Although this city accounts for less than 2% of the county's population, it is home to one-fifth of the county's known gang members, according to a report presented to the City Council this week.
The city's Anti-Gang and Drug Advisory Committee on Tuesday reported to the council that 300 of the more than 1,500 recognized gang members in Orange County reside in Placentia. Another 100 youths classified as "wannabe" gang members also live here, according to the report.
The report underscores that the relatively high concentration of gang members is taxing the few financial and human resources available here to combat gang activity and stem the increasing numbers of youths getting involved in gangs.
"There appears to be a great deal of frustration by governmental and school officials at the inability to have a significant impact on the gang problems in Placentia (and) Orange County, as well as in California and other states," the report concluded. "The main problems seem to be resources (money and manpower), current laws, and the lack of effective parenting."
Among other findings, the report found that the only youth probation officer assigned to the city is responsible for 70 to 90 charges, a caseload "too high to be effective." About 70% of the officer's probationers are of high school age, and 30% are junior high school age.
The committee avoided proposing solutions that would require city funding, Police Chief Manuel Ortega said, instead focusing on "low-cost or no-cost alternatives." The only expected city expenditure thus far is use of block grants or other grant sources to hire an outreach counselor to work with parents and their children.
The advisory committee's report included a 10-point plan it will undertake to combat the gang problem. The plan includes pursuing education programs with the cooperation of local school districts and the Police Department that would require parental participation. The Early Intervention Program would require counseling for both youths who exhibit "delinquent tendencies" and their parents.
The need for more parent involvement was a central concern in the report, which noted that "parents of many of the youthful gang members do not effectively discourage gang membership."
"Many of the parents either do not have effective parenting skills, have given up, or are not involved in the development of their children," the report said.
The committee's plan proposed a program that would require all parents to attend an orientation when their child is in kindergarten and then again in seventh grade. Participating parents would learn effective parenting skills in areas such as self-esteem, avoiding drug use and gang membership, and sex education.
The committee arrived at its conclusions and recommendations over the last four months from statistics and other information presented by city and county law enforcement and human services representatives who work with gangs.
The eight committee members, made up of residents and the police chief, focused on the gang issue more than drugs, believing that participation in one leads to the other.
"They're almost intermingled. If we can make a dent with the gangs, then we make a dent in the drug problem," Ortega said.