Local News

Feb 16, 2011 10:03 PM by Ariel Wesler

Youth organizations helping to lower gang crime

Both Santa Maria and Lompoc police departments say they saw a drop in gang crime last year.

Police in Lompoc say gang activity is down there by as much as 25 percent. According to an FBI, report violent crime dropped in Santa Maria in the first six months of 2010. Both agencies credit youth organizations for helping kids turn their lives around.

Just a few years ago, Jose Godinez and Mario were part of rival gangs in Lompoc.

"I was from the westside and he was from the southside," Mario said.

Like many gang members, Godinez grew up in a broken home.

"No dad since the age of 6, got into gangs, went to prison at the age of 16," Godinez said.

The gang lifestyle became a substitute for what was missing at home.

"They make it seem like it's a close community, you feel secure," Godinez said.

He credits Victory Outreach, a faith-based recovery center for getting his life back on track. He now speaks out to kids in the community through a program called New Directions.

"It's not just someone telling them what they read out of a book, but someone who lived it," Godinez said.

"They don't have to stay as a product of their environment," said Victory Outreach Director Robert Almanza.

Police in north county say partnering with youth and faith based organizations is working and reducing gang activity.

In 2010, we networked a lot more than we had in the past with outside agencies," said Sgt. Dan Cohen with the Santa Maria Police Department's gang unit. He says Santa Maria doubled the size of the its gang unit last year. Lompoc received resources to step up its patrols.

"We've been fortunate in the last year to have a lot of grant money to be able to augment our enforcement efforts," said Capt. Larry Ralston with the Lompoc Police Department.

Officers say that combination of enforcement and youth intervention is a one two punch and Godinez feels a little positivity can go a long way to lead kids away from gangs.

"They don't get someone telling them they're going to be somebody. They don't get someone telling them there's a new direction for you. So, that's what it is believing in our youth, believing in our city," Godinez said. "All of a sudden all of this will come back and they'll begin to say Ok, I want that."

For 2010, the sheriff's department says gang activity dropped in northern Santa Barbara County. Gang crime went up in the south county.

According to the district attorney in San Luis Obispo County over the past five years - gang related crimes have increased 40 percent, but in the last two years the rate has remained the same.

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