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It takes a community effort to prevent gangs from spreading here

By: Carol Feineman, News Messenger Editor
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There’s no question that police, teachers, parents, youth and residents don’t want gangs in Lincoln. The question is, how much of a gang presence is already here and can it be stopped? Several community leaders have said in personal conversations with me the last few months that Lincoln doesn’t have gangs. I wonder how accurate that statement is now, in light of Lincoln Police Lt. David Ibarra’s comments to the Western Placer Unified School District board members on June 2 about the need for a school resource officer at Lincoln High School. Ibarra, who has worked on gang issues for almost two decades here, recently observed gang activity at Lincoln High School. After Ibarra spoke at the June 2 meeting, the board voted all in favor of placing a school resource officer at the high school campus. I can understand the reluctance of community leaders I’ve talked to over the last few months to say gangs are a problem here. Once gangs are active in an area, they’re extremely difficult to dismantle. That’s why I’m glad to hear Lincoln Police Department representatives this week say they take the threat of gangs so seriously. “Is there a problem with gangs in Lincoln? That’s a yes-and-no answer. Relatively speaking, no, there’s not a problem. But we do have some gang issues with young kids emoting gang members and middle-school kids emoting older siblings who are gang members, primarily by dressing with the colors,” said Steve Krueger, the police’s youth services officer assigned to Lincoln’s two middle schools and executive director to the Police Activities League and Lincoln Youth Center. Currently, Lincoln has two Hispanic gangs to deal with, the Nortenos and Surenos gangs, according to both Krueger and Ibarra. “I can honestly say that gangs are not a huge problem. I am concerned but very pleased with how the middle schools are handling gang clothes, gang graffiti and gang fights,” Krueger said. “My concern is always there. If we’re not watching the kids, they have a lot of influences whether from out of town or older siblings who could influence them. I don’t see the problem is as prevalent as people see it. But we don’t want to end up with a problem.” Scott Leaman, the Western Placer Unified School District’s superintendent, agrees that gang-related activity is not a big issue in Lincoln. There is the occasional gang fight at the high school, according to Krueger, which is why his department tries to reach out earlier to students in middle school and even fifth-graders in some cases. Part of that outreach, Krueger explained, is through the Lincoln Youth Center started last September, PAL activities and Redirect activities. Redirect is a nonprofit organization that works with at-risk youth in Lincoln. Activities by these groups are designed to mentor, teach life skills and provide positive recreational choices for youth. “We’ve been at San Jose and Fresno where they didn’t address the gang problem and, before they knew it, it was blown out of hand. Prevention and intervention is what we’re focusing on,” Krueger said. “We’re fortunate because we get to focus on prevention and intervention, making it a priority. Instead of locking up kids and slapping them on their wrists, we’re trying to give them another direction through PAL, the youth center, and Redirect activities.” Dan Beltran, a Redirect board member and Harvest Time Church pastor, works with about 50 teens who are being influenced or joining gangs. “Here in Lincoln, what I see is more of the wanna-bes. Although there are gang members here, the majority of kids in elementary, middle and high schools are more influenced by that lifestyle, looking to establish their identity,” Beltran said. Beltran says that the whole community can work together to keep youth away from gangs by helping Redirect and the other team efforts. “I think parents should be aware, concerned that we need to educate ourselves. Worried? No,” Beltran said. “But we need to be smart. We can’t just sit around and think this isn’t a potential problem. It doesn’t go away.” For more information, to volunteer or to make donations, call Police Activities League and Lincoln Youth Center at 343-3632 and Redirect Organization at 223-6870. carolf@goldcountrymedia.com