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A new tack in battle against gangs

New Santa Ana council members push to create a 17-member board that will work on the social causes that draw youths into the violent culture.

January 13, 2007|Jennifer Delson | Times Staff Writer

Signaling a new aggressive stance to stem gang violence, Santa Ana City Council's newest members have pushed to create the city's first commission to work on prevention.

The Early Prevention and Intervention Commission marks a different tack for the council, which has traditionally focused on issues related to planning, zoning and business development instead of social problems.

"We have not had a council come together and say, 'We want to look at an issue like this,' " said Deputy Police Chief Tony Harrelson, a 25-year veteran of the department. "You have a new council with new people, and they want to work on something, and that may not be a bad thing."

The 17-member commission will focus on social causes that draw young people to the city's 92 active gangs.

The commission, which was approved this month, is the idea of new Councilwoman Michele Martinez. "Minors are involved in gangs because there is not enough guidance," she said. "It's time for us to take a proactive approach so they stay out of gangs."

Martinez's effort has already garnered detractors who have long worked on gang prevention in Santa Ana.

"Other than raising the level of awareness, I'm not sure it will be an effective commission," said Mary Bloom-Ramos, a volunteer in the federal Weed and Seed anti-crime program. She is also president of the Eastside Neighborhood Assn., which met this week with police to discuss last month's gang-related shooting that left two 14-year-olds dead.

Bloom-Ramos said that Martinez, who is 27, "is young, and she doesn't have the historical background. She is not working with the established government agencies that have been working on this for years."

Sixteen gang-related homicides in the city were reported in 2006, 11 of the victims teenagers. Police statistics also show 196 gang-related assaults last year.

The City Council is still discussing just what the commission will do. Following a model set by San Diego, council members will appoint nine resident members, and other agencies such as the Santa Ana Unified School District, will select other members.

The commissioners' initial task will be to evaluate current city programs -- such as homework clubs and after-school activities -- that aim to keep children out of gangs. From there, a citywide initiative is expected to be developed.

Last April, San Diego City Council formed a Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention. Attitudes about gangs can be changed just as attitudes about smoking were, San Diego Councilman Tony Young said. "We need to come up with new paradigms instead of using the Band-Aid approach," he said.

In Santa Ana, Councilman David Benavides, who developed an after-school program in an impoverished part of the city, said he hoped the new panel would create a plan of action.

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