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Editorial: Don't Let Up on City's Anti-Gang Campaign

February 14, 2013  |  SACRAMENTO BEE

Public safety isn't only about putting more police officers on the street, though Sacramento certainly needs to do that. It's also about getting the entire community engaged – neighborhood watch volunteers, clergy and others.


That's why the City Council needs to help fund one of the most promising grass-roots efforts out there, the Ceasefire anti-gang initiative.

It has produced results in the Mack Road area in south Sacramento, where gang warfare is a fact of life. Ministers lead night walks to get the message out. Gang members and others are called into meetings where they're given a choice – take advantage of educational, job training and other services, or face arrest and prison time.

From November 2010 to the end of 2011, 113 young people came into call-ins and 63 accepted services. Shootings decreased to nine in 2011, from 17 a year earlier.

During 2012, however, more than $1 million in federal and state grants ran out, the program was cut back and city support eroded. The numbers reflect that. Only 13 attended call-ins, two came in for services and shootings rose back to 17.

In the campaign promoting a half-cent increase in Sacramento's sales tax, voters were told that proceeds would go to restore "gang/youth violence prevention" programs, as well as police, fire, parks maintenance and other basic services slashed during the recession. Sacramento ACT (Area Congregations Together), the local organizer of Ceasefire, says it handed out 3,500 fliers and made 500 calls in support of Measure U, which passed in November with a surprising 63 percent of the vote.

Yet so far, Ceasefire isn't on the list for Measure U money.

With the first $5 million generated by the sales tax hike between April 1 and June 30, the city is focusing on building back the police force cut by 30 percent since 2007, restoring Fire Department services and opening city pools.

The bigger windfall comes in 2013-14 – a projected $27 million a year in additional sales tax revenue. Council members will divvy up that money during their budget deliberations starting in May.

Leaders of ACT and others in the Sacramento Safe Community Partnership, which runs Ceasefire, are lobbying for $2 million a year – enough to expand the full Ceasefire program to two more neighborhoods, most likely Del Paso Heights and Oak Park.

Some churches have already started night walks in those areas, but other key components of the program are missing, including street outreach workers who counsel gang members and education, training and jobs. Young people won't turn away from crime unless they're offered hope, Isaac Cotton of St. Jude Christian Tabernacle in Oak Park told The Bee's editorial board Wednesday.

The partnership has won a state gang prevention grant of $455,000 over two years – enough to keep a limited version of Ceasefire going in one neighborhood, probably south Sacramento – and is seeking more foundation grants.

Shirey said Wednesday that it's possible he might include Ceasefire in his budget recommendation, but cautioned that it's a "very expensive" program.

New Police Chief Sam Somers, whom Shirey named Wednesday, spoke of his commitment to build relationships with the community, to target gang members and to increase intervention and prevention efforts.

That sounds a lot like Ceasefire.

Police and city officials can talk all they want about citizen involvement in fighting crime. They need to back it up with some money. The city may not be able to afford the full $2 million, but it can certainly do better than nothing.