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Ventura County

Santa Paula Seeks Anti-Gang Grant

Application: The state funds would be used for programs at Boys & Girls Club to combat truancy and crimes by youths.

July 15, 2002|TIMOTHY HUGHES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A state crime-fighting grant at the top of Santa Paula's wish list would pump nearly a million dollars over the next four years into programs targeting the farm town's toughest neighborhoods.

Work is nearly complete on the application for the highly competitive California Gang, Crime and Violence Prevention Partnership grant that will be turned into the state attorney general's office July 26, said Mike Jump, a grant writer in the Ventura County district attorney's office.

If approved, the four-year grant would put $237,500 annually into Santa Paula Boys & Girls Clubs programs aimed at ending school truancy and keeping kids away from the five street gangs that roam the four-square-mile city. Because grant applicants must be nonprofit groups, the Boys & Girls Club would administer the grant.

"We have to break this chain and this cycle," said Police Chief Bob Gonzales. "I have seen people afflicted with drug and alcohol abuse passing it down to their kids. Having been raised here and knowing these people, I know there are people we can help, but we have to do it when they are young."

Getting approved for the grant is difficult in any year but will be particularly challenging in 2002, Jump said.

Budget negotiations in Sacramento have left unclear how much money will be available for the grant, which has provided more than $3 million annually to cities statewide since it was established in 1997. The number of cities receiving approval could be slashed from 30 to six in the coming fiscal year, officials said.

The application is the latest attempt by Gonzales and others in Santa Paula to find a solution for the city's ongoing crime problems at a time when City Council members have said they cannot afford to pay for more officers on the street.

Earlier this year, the Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration combined for a four-month operation that ended with the arrest of nearly two dozen people. The drug sweep was considered a success by Gonzales and others in law enforcement, but it didn't end without controversy.

Two rival gangs threatened to shoot up the city's tiny police station after a federal agent fatally shot a Santa Paula man during a drug raid in April. Police called a tactical alert the night of the threat and asked for assistance from the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.

In June, the family of shooting victim Edward Barron filed a $35-million claim against the city, the county and the federal government. Last week, DEA officials said an internal investigation of the shooting determined that it was justified.

In February, Santa Paula received approval for a $1-million federal grant to clean up a two-square-mile neighborhood on the city's north end that had been plagued by violence and overcrowding.

The grant will fund programs and an additional police officer at Las Piedras Community Center, among other uses.

Gonzales, who has had to make do with 18 officers on the street as gang membership has climbed in Santa Paula to more than 200, would hire an additional school-based officer with the new grant money.

It also would fund a gang prevention coordinator as well as a job placement expert based at the Boys & Girls Club and pay part of the salary of a deputy district attorney, who would work part time in Santa Paula on truancy issues, Jump said.

"We hope that prevention will begin to offset some of the crime-rate jumps we have seen," Jump said. "And we are looking at reduced funding. The resources are not going to be there to hire people to throw people in jail. You're going to have to find ways to keep people out of jail."

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