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Are there gangs in Lincoln?

By: Carol Feineman, News Messenger Editor
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Depending on who’s speaking, the answer could be yes or the answer could be no. Lincoln Police Lt. David Ibarra told the Western Placer Unified School District board on June 2 that he was “amazed with what I was seeing (at the high school). I was immediately concerned for the students.” Ibarra served as a school resource officer at Lincoln High from 1999 to 2001. For the last two years, the school has been without a resource officer. Drawing Ibarra’s attention, he said at the June 2 meeting, were Nortenos and Surenos gang members at the school. The board unanimously approved the position of a school resources officer at Lincoln High and the adjacent Phoenix High School, for the next two school years. Police officers interviewed by The News Messenger since then, however, including Ibarra, have downplayed gang activity here. “I don’t think there’s a gang problem in Lincoln,” said Lincoln Police Chief Brian Vizzusi this week. “Like any city, there are some people who claim they’re gang members. We’re doing everything we can do to minimize any gang affiliation and any gang crime. We’re living in a society where many of our young kids think being a gang member is cool because of clothing, because of music, because of culture, because of media, because of TV. How we minimize gang activity, crime and involvement is by education, awareness, intervention and suppression.” Gang activity and gang crime have not increased and gang graffiti has dropped 36 percent this past year, according to Vizzusi. “We haven’t had a drive-by shooting in at least a year or any gang-related deaths, period,” the police chief said. “We haven’t had any violent crime because our officers are doing a great job.” Lincoln police, Vizzusi pointed out, will talk to anyone “wearing red and blue or acting like gang members.” “It’s suppression. We have zero tolerance for anyone in gangs,” Vizzusi said. But a parent this week told The News Messenger that gangs are here. “That school is not safe. I’m glad the officer is coming there,” said Dana Labrado, whose son was a Lincoln High sophomore this year. “My child had a knife pulled on him in May of last year on campus. Then this year, 15 men came through the school grounds near the ag shop and, because my son doesn’t get along with their cousin, they came to get him,” Labrado said. “The teacher who saved him told the men to get off school grounds. There are gang members who are Lincoln High and Phoenix students and they bring their brothers and uncles.” According to the mother, a fifth-generation Lincoln resident; gangs became an issue here three-plus years ago when the city’s population increased. “They’re coming up from Mexico. They stay here and represent the blues from L.A. My son is brown skinned. Is he a gang member? Absolutely not,” she said. “My son knows it’s not safe, to the point where I pick him up from school. When it’s really bad, when things are going on, I take him home for lunch. He’s safer at home.” Four months ago, Labrado said, her son was “whipped by a group of gang members” at McBean Park. “They used to play basketball at the park but now the police cleaned up that area and they’ve been gone ever since that incident four months ago.” Ibarra said he visited the high-school campus due to one gang-related fight on campus in late May. “That’s when we identified everyone. We used suppression efforts to prevent other fights. The first fight prompted two fights with normal kids assaulting gang members,” Ibarra said. “Having a school resource officer will make a big impact to prevent gang activities, prevent illegal drug activities and any other delinquency on campus.” Lincoln High principal Dave Butler said the school has a zero-tolerance policy. “If students bring gang activities on campus, we’ll expel them,” said Butler, although he would not comment on how many students have been expelled due to gang activity. Scott Leaman, the Western Placer Unified School District’s superintendent, stressed that adding a school resource officer to Lincoln High School is not in reaction to any specific gang activity. “We’re getting to be a bigger school at 1,500 students. Most schools in Placer County have resource officers. It’s not a direct cause and effect to any single issue,” Leaman said. Ibarra, who has worked with gang issues for 18 years , said Lincoln has 40 validated Surenos gang members and six Nortenos gang members, between the ages of 14 and early 20s. “We shouldn’t bury our heads and deny that we have any gangs in Lincoln,” Ibarra said. “But then again, we shouldn’t be alarmed and afraid that we have a lot of gangs in Lincoln. That’s not the case.” Steve Krueger, the police’s youth services officer assigned to the two middle schools and executive director of both the Police Activities League and Lincoln Youth Center, echoed Ibarra’s sentiments about the lack of gangs in this area. “Our concern is that we’re trying to get our kids to understand there are gang members from Citrus Heights, Sacramento, the Bay Area moving to Lincoln with their families. We’re trying to be proactive to make sure these gang members don’t come to Lincoln, don’t recruit here, don’t do any retaliation,” Krueger said. “There’s potential here for gangs but we’ve been able to preempt it from becoming serious.” That’s through placing these youth in activities sponsored by the Lincoln Youth Center, Police Activities League, Redirect organization and Parks and Recreation Department sports. What police are doing to combat gang infiltration Since 2006, the Lincoln Police Department is using “prevention, intervention and suppression” to prevent gangs from forming here, according to Ibarra. Prevention consists of talking to students about gangs and drugs. That is accomplished in the elementary schools by visits with Grandma Cop, a Citizens on Patrol volunteer with the police department; Krueger as the youth services officer at the two middle schools, and starting in fall, a youth services officer at the high school. Intervention, Ibarra explained, is when youth “wanna-be gang members” are at risk with becoming involved in gangs. The nonprofit Redirect organization, Youth Center and Police Activities League works closely with these youth. “The chief is correct when he says we don’t have a problem when you look at serious gang-related crimes – two stabbings and one shooting in 2007 by 18 and 19-year-olds. We’ve had no serious crime since then,” Ibarra said. “Unfortunately, we get new families moving in here who bring their kids to Lincoln. Unfortunately, they’re bringing the kids who already have that gang lifestyle in them.” What the public can do to help prevent gangs from spreading here Parents, teachers and the public can help provide solutions, Vizzusi noted. “Parents need to be aware of their youth’s activities as far as who they’re hanging out, what kind of music they’re listening to and what clothes they’re wearing to make sure their kids aren’t getting involved in gangs,” the police chief said. Teachers need to enforce the dress code and residents need to call the police department (645-4040) if they suspect gang activity in their neighborhood, Vizzusi added. Krueger, the middle school’s youth services officer and the executive director at both the Police Activities League and Lincoln Youth Center, agrees the public “has more power than they realize.” Creating awareness is the key, in Krueger’s opinion. “ I’ve done numerous parent lectures on gang awareness, how to learn about gangs through schools and, unfortunately, very few parents show up,” he said. Labrado hopes these measures will work. “I don’t know what the solution is,” Labrado said. “It’s a mess. Even for the Portuguese festa celebration, the police had already warned the people to be careful because of gang members coming here. I packed my son up and we went to the beach. It was the first time we missed the picnic because there’s no safety. It’s heartbreaking.”