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School resource officers to be present at Santa Maria high schools to deter gang recruitment efforts

Posted at 6:46 PM, Jul 14, 2023

In recent weeks, there have been two reported separate shooting incidents in the City of Santa Maria involving local teens.

In June, a shooting just outside the Santa Maria Town Center ended up with a 15-year-old in the hospital. Just weeks later, another suspected gang-related shooting left a family mourning the death of their 14-year-old son.

Police say they are aware of local gang recruitment tactics across Santa Maria schools, and that they are taking steps to raise awareness and put an end to the issue.

“A lot of gang recruitment happens in the late years of junior high or the early years of high school. That is one of the big focuses that we will have with our SROs (School Resource Officers) at schools,” said Sergeant Felix Diaz of Santa Maria Police’s community services department.

Due to increased police staffing, local teenagers can expect the Santa Maria Police Department to be more present on campuses this coming school year.

“We were able to partner up with Santa Maria Joint Union High School District to get school resource officers at the high schools — and that just goes to the interaction between officers and students, building bonds with students to try and prevent them from gangs,” Sgt. Diaz explained.

He says they are also working to educate local parents.

“What their kids are wearing, what they are buying their kids, what clothes they are wearing is gang-related, things of that nature,” he added. “Then again, just being parents, keeping kids involved in sports, other things where they don’t have to do other stuff and are busy doing more productive stuff.”

The City of Santa Maria’s Task Force on Youth Safety aims to be one of those positive outlets.

“The city treats its youth very seriously. We provide a lot of avenues for them to do productive programming,” said city public information manager, Mark van de Kamp.

For example, in late spring, members of the task force organized a community job fair for local teens to explore job opportunities ahead of summer break. But as the police department rebounds from multiple gang-related incidents involving Santa Maria youth, Sergeant Diaz is also stressing the importance of gang involvement prevention at home.

“Be aware of what your kids are doing at night, what hours of the night they are going out, who they are going out with, being aware of the local gangs. We are open to presentations for anybody,” Sgt. Diaz added. “Even if you just want to come in, talk about gangs and other issues, feel free to reach out to our Community Services Department and we are more than happy to do presentations.”

Despite the multiple Santa Maria shootings, Lieutenant Daniel Rios tells KSBY so far, the department has seen six fewer homicides compared to last year, adding that felony arrests and robberies have seen a downward trend as well.

The 14-year-old who died in a shooting earlier this month was from Lompoc.

We reached out to Lompoc Police officials throughout the week for comment on gang involvement deterrent measures among teens in their city, but we did not hear back.