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Ventura County

Cuts May Limit Anti-Gang Program

D.A. is asking the supervisors for $128,000 to keep two prosecutors on the effort full time. Some officials say the county can't afford it.

November 30, 2002|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

State cuts may shrink funding for prosecutors in an anti-gang program in Ventura and Oxnard if the district attorney's office cannot persuade supervisors to make up the shortfall.

Saying they regret being unable to replace anticipated cuts in state grants, Ventura County officials are urging supervisors to reject Dist. Atty. Greg Totten's request for $128,100 at their meeting Tuesday.

"We're not opposed to the program," Tom Womack, a top assistant to County Executive Officer Johnny Johnston said Friday. "It's about money at this point in time. When a grant expires, departments are to look for ways to absorb it."

If the supervisors turn down Totten, two prosecutors exclusively handling gang cases may have to take on other tasks, said Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeff Bennett.

"We'll be in a tough spot," he said. "This is one of the most successful programs we have going right now."

The D.A.'s office and the cities of Oxnard and Ventura have received grants from the state Office of Criminal Justice Planning for their continuing efforts to stem gang violence. While police chiefs in Oxnard and Ventura say their cities have agreed to replace the state's probable shortfall, county supervisors have not yet considered whether to fund the likely 37% cut.

"We want the county to make an exception to its general rule," Bennett said. "We want them to do what the cities of Oxnard and Ventura have already agreed to do."

The money would help cover salaries and benefits for the program's prosecutors until the end of the fiscal year in June 2003.

Ventura police officials have credited the state-funded Gang Violence Suppression program with helping to reduce violent crime, which in 2001 dropped by 18%.

Making his case in a letter to the Board of Supervisors, Totten said that a tight budget has cut his office by 14 prosecutors in the last year. Gang cases are particularly time-consuming, because neighborhood witnesses often are too frightened to testify, he said.

The anti-gang program brings together local police, prosecutors and probation officers in an effort to get hard-core offenders off the streets.

At the same time, Boys & Girls Clubs, the Police Activities League and similar organizations focus on helping teenagers who may otherwise be drawn to gang violence.

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