Under pressure from residents upset about recent gang violence, the Police Department tried to enlist aid at a community meeting Thursday.
"Most simply, we need your assistance," Detective Tim Sanchez told an audience of more than 100 people. "We need your ears. We need your eyes. Your assistance as good witnesses is something we need."
Sanchez, who works in the department's gang unit, flanked Chief John R. Robertson and other police officials on the dais usually reserved for the City Council. The group described in detail the efforts that the city makes to track gang activity and to offer youth constructive alternatives such as recreational programs.
Tensions had heightened after several incidents in the heart of the city, including one in which a woman was shot after trying to stop gang members from tagging a house with graffiti.
Police officials said preventing such violence has been a top priority for years.
"If you put a police officer on every corner, you just can't stop it," Robertson said of crime. "But I'll tell you what--we will find the perpetrator."
The chief said a host of intervention and diversion programs, such as a truancy learning center and recreational alternatives for poor youths, are crucial to stopping the growth of gangs, even though the programs can take years to produce results.
Community members were invited to speak with lieutenants responsible for various neighborhoods and to ask questions about specific gang problems.
Some residents said they felt better after the meeting, but Latinos who live in the city said they fear a racial backlash.
"As a citizen, I'm concerned about crime," said Thomas Salazar, a 37-year-old east Orange resident who works for a private investigator. "But I'm concerned about the perception of where that crime comes from. . . . I know I fit the gang profile."