We have to stop gangs from increasing in California

By: Carol Feineman News Messenger Editor
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Once or twice a year, I write about the increased presence of gangs in Lincoln. This time, I’ll echo the past messages with an addendum: gang activity is increasing and it’s becoming more violent in Lincoln. While we don’t have the higher numbers of gangs and gang members of larger cities such as Sacramento (168 gangs and 3,500 gang members, according to the Sacramento Police Department), we can’t ignore our numbers. Those numbers are 50 Nurenos and 50 Surenos in Lincoln, according to Lincoln Police Lt. Dave Ibarra. And the numbers could be higher, Lincoln Police Chief Paul Shelgren said, “as gangs are actively recruiting” throughout the region. “Fifty Nurenos and 50 Surenos — compare that to L.A. County and it’s not a lot. But when you’re talking about a town of 42,000, that’s a lot,” said California Gang Investigator’s Association president Dan Nalian. “It’s pretty serious when they’re shooting every month. When gang members fire guns, they’re indiscriminate. They might fire 10 rounds and two might hit innocent bystanders.” Lincoln’s gang problem has to be addressed, according to Nalian, a retired West Covina police gang detective. “When you have increased gang activity, then you need to take notice,” Nalian said. “You can’t ignore it. You have to start working on it when you see it. Otherwise, the gang members become more brazen.” Gang references via graffiti are evident in Lincoln’s downtown neighborhoods. There is graffiti on alley walls, signs and railroad crossings. Yet Lincoln Police Department Lt. Dave Ibarra said that some residents are ignorant that gangs are fighting each other here, sometimes with knives and guns. For anyone who hasn’t been in Lincoln’s downtown neighborhoods lately, believe Ibarra and Shelgren — gangs are here. And Lincoln’s police department needs our help. It can’t fight the gang problem alone. Ibarra and Shelgren stress that residents give their department information on where new graffiti is and whether they see other gang activity. But the police need more than just the occasional tip. They can’t have any more officers cut because the police department is already understaffed. A staffing survey of 178 California police departments done in 2009 by California Police Chief’s Association ranked Lincoln on the bottom 175 out of 178 departments. That was when the police department had 28 officers. We have 20 officers today, due to General Fund budget cuts. “Our community has to come together and tell City Council this is important. We can’t allow our gangs to take over,” Ibarra said. “As long as we have proper staffing, we’ll continue to be successful battling this problem. But we won’t be as proactive with less officers; gang members will feel free to commit crimes, knowing there are less cops on the streets.” While police “have maintained their diligence in this type of activity to maintain a high quality of life in Lincoln,” according to Ibarra, it “has been stressful for us” because of ongoing layoffs. “It’s very, very important to maintain our current levels. Hopefully, the economy turns around and we’ll be back to staffing levels of two to three years ago where we had officers numbering in the mid-40s.Now, we’re at 20,” Ibarra said. “In the meantime, we’ll continue to be diligent about gangs and be successful. We have some great police officers. We do all we can to focus on this problem because it’s what our citizens want, even though we’re short- staffed.” This is not the time to consider contracting out public-safety jobs like the fiscal sustainability committee recently suggested as a way to help balance the city’s General Fund budget. Our police officers live here, shop here and raise their families here. They know the community and see the problems first-hand and on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the Lincoln Police Department’s crime suppression unit, which monitored gang activity and members, was eliminated in 2009 because of budget cuts. “Usually, the first unit to go is the gang unit. That is the problem – a lot of agencies are cutting down on manpower and officers are being stretched thin,” Nalian said. “The gangs are very aware of this. When that gang unit goes away, gangs become aware of it, become more brazen and things escalate.”