Gang mentality

Sacramento City Council turns mayor's gang-prevention plan into political-turf battle

A relatively new dispute is kicking off between entrenched Sacramento gangs. While it has nothing to do with guns or bandannas, it is all about turf.

After months of lip-service support for Mayor Kevin Johnson’s unfolding gang-prevention strategy, a city-council-steered budget plan (scheduled to be voted on June 11) included what amounts to a pittance to actually implement it.

Of the city’s $846 million in base budget and first-year Measure U allocations, $50,000 has been slivered out for the mayor’s gang-prevention task force, equal to one full-time employee. Stakeholders were asking for $1 million to expand the city’s Ceasefire Program and start implementing some of the 20 strategies they say will redirect future generations of color-tripping gangbangers.

Sacramento ACT—short for Area Congregations Together—requested $490,000 for Ceasefire, which has shown mixed results in cooling gang violence along the Mack Road corridor.

Stakeholders want to expand it to the Del Paso Heights neighborhood, which has also seen an uptick in gang-related violence. But with what’s been proposed, Ceasefire administrators may have a Sophie’s Choice on their hands.

Debra Cummings hopes it isn’t her community that loses out. The lifelong Del Paso Heights resident told city-council members last month that after a two-decade war between rival neighborhood factions, she was seeing flickers of hope.

“We finally have a dialogue open,” she said. “We’re just trying to take back our neighborhood one day at a time. … And we don’t want to be the forgotten neighborhood.”

Some of the state’s most notorious ganglands have witnessed success by embracing the programs Sacramento is considering, neighborhood-resources coordinator Khaalid Muttaqi told SN&R. The cities of San Jose, Richmond, Oxnard and even Los Angeles are now being heralded as examples of how to attack gangsterism through evidence-based prevention strategies. Over the last eight years, gang-related homicides dropped nearly 67 percent in the City of Angels, reports Southern California Public Radio.

“If Los Angeles, of all places, can turn it around and get a hold of their gang issues, I’m sure Sacramento can also institute some best practices and eventually be a model,” Muttaqi said.

But after arguing the same point on May 21, Muttaqi ran into a roadblock named Bonnie Pannell. The councilwoman from District 8, which includes gang-affected Meadowview, swiftly batted down the million-dollar ask.

“This program is not reaching hard-to-serve people,” she said. “These people need jobs. And since we’re building an arena, we need to train people for those jobs.”

“I can’t support this,” she added, cutting off Muttaqi when he tried to say workforce development would be part of the plan.

Pannell was able to support redirecting $391,500 in city cellphone-tower revenues to her personal operational budget and those of her fellow council members. Each member’s discretionary fund would get an extra $43,500 as a result, to be spent how elected officials choose.

The Sacramento Police Department has proposed using $165,000 in asset-forfeiture funds this year on youth gang-diversion programs like the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Sacramento and a summer camp for at-risk youth, among other activities.

Meanwhile, the gang violence rages on.

Of the seven homicides Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department detectives investigated this year, three were “likely gang related,” said department spokesman Sgt. Jason Ramos.

Sentence-ballooning gang enhancements, meanwhile, haven’t put a dent in Sacramento’s vaunted gang problem, law-enforcement officials acknowledge. If anything, they’ve sucked in 16-year-old wannabes and spit them out legit criminals.

“They’ll get their graduate degrees in crime,” Muttaqi said. “Everyone knows we can’t arrest our way out of the problem.”

Even with all the money in the world, if municipalities just keep funding the back-end enforcement and incarceration strategies, they’ll constantly be chasing a problem that’s growing larger, they say.

“Crime is down with the youth in this community,” said Karen Flynn, assistant public defender. “We want that to continue. But without prevention and just funding cops, it’s not going to work.”

Among other efforts, the gang-prevention task force is examining law enforcement’s validation system and looking for ways to allow validated gang members to “opt out,” Muttaqi said.

Catching a young wannabe at the moment of validation, Muttaqi said, is a unique opportunity to give someone a glimpse into their dark future and nudge him down a different path.

Without a prevention and deterrence strategy, Muttaqi said, “they’ll be the ones that’ll be doing the shootings in a couple of years.”