Years have passed since Napa has been hit with a serious gang problem, but county and city officials know that gang activity is not fading away.
“We need to look at the issues and act before it gets out of hand,” said Napa County Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht.
In 2008, when Wagenknecht chaired the supervisors' board, he and other county, city and law enforcement officials formed a steering committee to create a master plan to address gang and youth violence.
After two meetings with the committee and community, the steering committee opted to hire outside consultants to draft a plan that would address and solve gang issues, Wagenknecht said.
Last month the plan’s eight findings were presented to the board for “recommendations and feedback on the plan,” said Liz Habkirk, analyst with the county.
“We will go before the board on June 7 and ask for a resolution to set up the commission, adopt the bylaws and get applications to fill the comission seats,” Habkirk said.
Habkirk and Napa County Senior Management Analyst Molly Rattigan prepared the report presented to the board of supervisors.
The steering committee is made up of representatives of the sheriff’s department, district attorney office and probation department as well the police chiefs of American Canyon and Napa.
The plan recommends 20 Gang and Youth Violence Commission board seats, 11 of which will be filled with representatives from education, non-profits and others who work with Napa’s youth, Habkirk said,
The funding for the commission will come from $40,000 received from the county assets and forfeitures account, Wagenknecht said.
“We will also seek grants,” he added.
Wagenknecht said the goal of the commission is to define and deal with gang and youth violence issues.
Currently law enforcement has identified countywide 700 to 800 people as gang members or having an affiliation with a gang, Wagenknecht said.
“Not all of these people are currently involved in gang activity,” he added.
The consultants looked at where gang members live and found just a few neighborhoods in Napa, Wagenknecht said.
“We also discovered that Napa County gang members are not like the ones from big cities. Ours are mostly young people.”
Wagenknecht also said Napa County gangs are “not a criminal enterprise — they are not making a business from being a gang member.”
Wagenknecht said it can be a dangerous life for a gang member.
“We are seeing second generations involved in gangs. Unlike the big cities, we don’t have probationers and parolees out recruiting new members.”
He said the lures for young people to join a gang range from something to belong to, the feeling of excitement they get from the gang life or the fact that they have already gotten into trouble.
For more about the eight key findings in the county report, see "."