Gang activity is on the rise in Lompoc and it’s turning violent. Lompoc police say there have been a total of 16 shootings and stabbings since mid-June.
Sgt. Agustin "Chip" Arias says there are three neighborhoods in Lompoc associated with three different gangs. Most of the violence stems from turf wars.
Middle and high school kids are being recruited into gangs, according to Sgt. Arias. Many of the kids come from troubled homes and are looking for somewhere they belong.
"A lot of them come from troubled economic backgrounds. We could have them sell drugs, you’ll make some money. You could help us with doing this, we’ll give you money. You’re hungry? We’ll feed you. So, it’s kind of a comradery thing but it’s all manipulative," said Sgt. Arias.
One former gang member who wanted her identity protected joined a Lompoc gang at age 15. She says gang members are using young kids as ‘pawns’ to get what they want.
"When you go to prison or you go down, they’re not going to be there for you. Your family is," she said, speaking to her own personal experience of spending 12 years in prison. "It just hurts my heart, because it’s a lot of youngsters now. They’re getting into something that they don’t know the outcome. They’re going to end up in prison and that’s not the way to go. They need to be learning and becoming something."
Sgt. Arias says education is key to keeping Lompoc’s kids out of trouble.
"Educating them on what it is and what the possibilities of what could happen is helpful, having liaisons at school that know the gang culture, that’s helpful, and having dress codes at school to prevent gang attire, very helpful," Sgt. Arias added.
The police department is also teaming up with certain housing entities to install cameras throughout the city where there has been a lot of gang activity. They say it’s already helping them identify suspects in recent shootings and stabbings.