Editorial: Council must make hard choices on gangs

Published: Tuesday, May. 21, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 8A

Given the promises to voters and the city's core duties, there's little doubt that nearly all of Sacramento's sales tax windfall will go to restore basic police, fire and parks services.

Still, there is one conundrum that will face the City Council today: How best to spend limited resources to fight gangs?

It is a long-term proposition to lessen gangs' deadly grip on some neighborhoods. Community support is essential, along with services and jobs. Without enough money for a big new program, the wisest course is to support clergy and other grass-roots activists who are on the front lines. New city Police Chief Sam Somers Jr. should be given time to build his "cops and clergy" initiative that counts on ministers to reach gang members.

For now, city money should be focused on putting more patrol officers on the street and beefing up investigations, forensics and crime analysis – as the planned $11.3 million bump in 2013-14 for the police department to restore 51 positions would do.

Of the total $27 million in Measure U cash, city officials also recommend spending $827,000 on five community centers that will target at-risk youth in many of their programs, plus $187,000 on teen recreation services and $50,000 on a gang prevention program analyst within the neighborhood services division.

Today, council members will hear presentations for other specific and ambitious anti-gang proposals.

One comes from the Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force. It is seeking $1 million in Measure U money: $670,000 for after-school, conflict resolution, mentor training, inmate re-entry and other programs; $267,000 for three staffers; plus money for supplies and data analysis.

Another plan is put forward by the Sacramento Safe Community Partnership, which brought here a model known as Ceasefire. It hinges on confronting gang leaders with an ultimatum: Accept job training and other services to leave the gang life, or face almost certain prison time.

The partnership, led by Sacramento Area Congregations Together, is seeking $490,000 for a full-scale Ceasefire effort in one neighborhood, possibly Del Paso Heights. About $220,000 would go to services for at least 45 gang members, such as counseling, GED classes, job training and wages. The rest would go to two gang intervention specialists and other management.

Ministers and the Police Department were key partners in Ceasefire, which in 2011 showed some promise reducing shootings in the Mack Road corridor in south Sacramento.

However, some clergy and Police Department leaders including Somers have soured on the partnership, saying that it spends too much money on overhead and hasn't delivered enough proven results. For its part, ACT is raising concerns that the city is freezing it out of decisions on Ceasefire.

At this point, it's difficult to see how the program can succeed without all partners working together.

Bishop Sherwood Carthen, lead pastor at Bayside of South Sacramento, took part in Ceasefire but is now working with Somers. He makes a convincing case to focus on the grass-roots work of Ceasefire, not on expensive administration and data analysis.

Carthen is a strong believer that one-on-one interaction with gang members can transform lives. It is that work that the city has to find the most cost-effective ways to support.

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