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Napa County to Add Gang Commission

Wagenknecht: “We’re trying to keep the young people from becoming bad guys.”

The is poised to create a countywide gang commission.

 At the request of District Attorney Gary Lieberstein, the supes agreed Tuesday that the county needs a commission that will focus on preventing criminal gang activity.

“We’re trying to keep the young people from becoming bad guys,” said Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, presiding member of a city-county steering committee that presented its 107-page Napa County Gang and Youth Violence Master Plan (pdf attached) during the board's regular Tuesday meeting.

Likely members of the countywide commission would include representatives from Napa's law enforcement, education, youth-counseling and Latino communities, and the focus would largely be on prevention and intervention among young people at risk of joining gangs.

"Just growing up is hard enough," Lieberstein said. "Then growing up with ... pressure (to join gangs) makes it worse."

Lieberstein also told the supervisors that Napa does not have the organized criminal street gangs seen in major cities.

"It's more of an affiliation than that they’re interconnected with a more sophisticated gang," he explained.

The gang and youth violence master plan, which is attached to this article, provides an overview of gang activity, enforcement and outreach in the county.

According to senior county analyst Molly Rattigan, no taxpayer or municipal funds went into its creation: The plan was paid for with asset-forfeiture funds from the Napa Special Investigations Bureau, an interjurisdictional drug task force that operates throughout the county.

Supported with maps, charts and other data, the plan makes eight “key findings” and offers eight corresponding recommendations:

Key Finding 1: Napa County is experiencing major demographic changes.

Recommendation 1: Build on current collaborative meetings and stakeholder groups to develop a more efficient monitoring system to observe trends associated with gangs and gang crime including the collection of additional data to further define gang and youth violence issues.

Key Finding 2: Magnitude of the gang activity (i.e. arrests or incidents) and suspected gang membership is growing, but manageable.

Recommendation 2: Institute a gang liaison program to increase the quality of gang information collected and to aid the dissemination of gang information and its use for policy and programmatic purposes.

Key Finding 3: There is a modest geographic concentration of gang problems.

Recommendation 3: Implement Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) in specific schools.

Key Finding 4: The gang problem is more pronounced among juveniles than adults.

Recommendation 4: Target at-risk youth with prevention programming.

Key Finding 5: Gang membership is a fluid state.

Recommendation 5: Do not treat all gang members and at-risk youth as if they are equal.

Key Finding 6: Hispanics are disproportionately represented as gang members in the criminal justice system.

Recommendation 6: The overrepresentation of Hispanics in official records is a community problem that requires a solution that extends beyond the police and requires community participation. The County should build on current stakeholder groups and work to engage the community in the larger solution.

Key Finding 7: Gang affiliation is a risk factor for substance use and victimization.

Recommendation 7: An intervention system must be in place to respond to the needs of gang and at-risk youth in crisis situations.

Key Finding 8: There is a consensus among criminal justice system experts that more prevention and intervention is needed.

Recommendation 8: Build on current stakeholder efforts to develop a more formal coalition consisting of representatives from various organizations invested in the well being of local youth.

Source: Napa County Gang and Youth Violence Master Plan

Lieberstein said while sources of funding are limited, his office would seek grants to support the gang commission's work. The master plan, he said, would serve as the "needs assessment" required to obtain outside funding.

The supervisors did not take formal action Tuesday on forming the new commission, as that requires an agenda item for a future meeting. But their consensus was approval, with Supervisor Keith Caldwell adding that the commission would not be created as part of the , which currently oversees the and the Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Tom Ontis April 06, 2011 at 05:50 PM
Though I have been out of Napa for 31 years, I keep up on what's going on with Patch, the Register, and conversations with friends. Even in my youth, Napa had a problem with gangs, it just wasn't organized the way gangs are organized today. I would think that being in NoCal, any organized activity would be under the Nortenos, wether as a formal part, or an informal associate relationship. As a youth growing up in Napa, well really to the east of town beyond Silverado, there was nothing to do. That in and of itself, has the potential for gangs to move in. Teenagers need more to do rather than get affiliated. As I know money is tight in any governmental situation, I would think the commission could work with community groups such as Kiwanis, Lions, Rotary or Soroptimists to offer activities to kids. (I know Brad was active in the Boys club as a youth. I've known Brad for well over 40 years.) My one concern is that the commission, in its reccomendations seem to focus on Latino youth as a big part of the problem. This is not Arizona and Napa County would not thrive if it weren't for Latinos. Granted there are not big numbers of other cultures in Napa, but don't 'pick' on people because of their ethnicity.
Louisa Hufstader April 06, 2011 at 07:56 PM
Hi Tom -- Good points and I can give you some more from the meeting: Among the community groups mentioned as important partners/stakeholders were the Boys & Girls Club and Hispanic Network (whose president, Alicia Jaramillo, was on the Master Plan steering committee and spoke at the meeting). DA Lieberstein also said he wanted to get more involved with the faith community. Police Chief Richard Melton spoke specifically to the fact that in Napa, "Hispanic youth are the majority," and so the representation is not as disproportionate as it might seem. You can get a lot more info out of the Master Plan, which I attached to the article. Keep the questions coming!

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