ORANGE — The county's law enforcement agencies Thursday announced the creation of a committee that will combine their efforts to fight gangs through education, enforcement and community involvement.
The group, called Gang Strategy Steering Committee and formed by the Orange County Chiefs of Police and Sheriff's Assn., plans to reduce gang violence, cut illegal drug use and get tougher on graffiti taggers.
"You have our commitment to addressing this problem. Now, we need each and every one of yours," said committee Chairman Paul M. Walters, chief of Santa Ana police, at a press conference at the Doubletree Hotel at the City.
The committee on Jan. 1 started a uniform reporting system on gang activities and crimes for all cities and unincorporated areas in the county. A research analyst, who has not been hired, will interpret the data to help officials find causes and solutions.
The chiefs and sheriff's association also bought a computer program called the Gang Reporting Evaluation and Tracking System, known as GREAT, to help investigators get quick and accurate information about gangs and their members.
The $284,000 cost was funded by the Orange County Regional Narcotics Suppression Program.
GREAT lists 240 gangs and 14,609 identified gang members in the county. About 75% of the members are Latinos and the rest are mostly Asians, said Douglas Woodsmall, supervising attorney for the district attorney's office gang unit.
Fewer than 5% on the list are girls, he said.
The committee also reported that there were at least 45 deaths caused by gangs last year--14 more than in 1991 and 17 more than in 1990, Woodsmall said.
Orange County is the first region in the country to ensure that all of its law enforcement agencies, including the district attorney's office and the probation department, have access to the computer system, Walters said. The main computer is housed in the district attorney's office gang unit, and the other agencies can tap into it through their computers.
GREAT made its debut last summer in Los Angeles. Hailed by law enforcement officers as one of their most effective tools against gangs, it was nonetheless criticized after indicating that nearly half of young black men in Los Angeles County were identified as either gang members or associates.
But Orange County officials say that most of the gang members in the computer acknowledged affiliations or associations with gangs.
"We're confident that what's in there is accurate," said gang strategy committee member Loren Duchesne, chief of the district attorney's bureau of investigation.
Duchesne said a person is identified as a gang member in the computer if the following criteria are met:
* Admitting membership in a gang.
* A reliable informant identifies someone as a gang member.
* An untested informant identifies someone as a gang member and the tip is confirmed by other independent factors.
* If a person lives in or frequents a gang area and wears gang clothes, has gang tattoos, shows gang hand signs and associates with gangs.
* Has been arrested several times with known gang members for typical gang crimes such as home invasions.
Walters opened the press conference by showing videotapes used to train officers on four types of gangs: Latino, Asian, girls and graffiti taggers. Walters said white gangs are not a problem.
The presiding judge of the Orange County Juvenile Court, Francisco P. Briseno, said he plans to open juvenile court proceedings to the public in cases of serious crimes, such as murder. Those hearings traditionally have been closed and confidential to protect the privacy of minors.
"Sometimes the arrest, the confinement, the court appearance shocks the kids, and shocks the parents into becoming involved," Briseno said. "We're looking for some flexibility in getting and keeping that parent involved in terms of their supervising" their children.
The steering committee will begin involving the community by recruiting teachers to help reach parents and youth.