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Santa Maria City Council rejects grand jury suggestions for stronger youth gang response
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Santa Maria City Council rejects grand jury suggestions for stronger youth gang response

From the What you need to know for Thursday, September 17 series

The Santa Maria City Council will not implement grand jury recommendations related to tracking and mitigating juvenile gang activity, citing budget constraints and burdensome requirements for data programs. 

The Santa Barbara County grand jury's 2019-20 report analyzed rates of juvenile gang activity and areas of need in the county. Jurors found that youth gang recruitment is increasing, particularly in Santa Maria, while county resources directed toward gang prevention continue to decrease. 

Released June 29, the report was sent to the Santa Maria, Lompoc, Guadalupe and Santa Barbara city councils, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office, the county Board of Supervisors, and the county Superintendent of Education, with responses required from all parties within 90 days. 

The Santa Maria City Council approved its response during Tuesday's council meeting. 

The jury recommended that Santa Maria pool resources and collaborate with county and police jurisdictions to implement the following: hire a full-time crime analyst to review gang crime data, create a collaborative database tracking gangs across jurisdictions, and hire staff to apply for anti-gang grants.

Council members cited budget restraints as the main reason for not implementing the jury's recommendations, especially following the financial impacts from the COVID-19 economic shutdown.

"The city of Santa Maria is currently projecting layoffs as a result of budget shortfalls. Participation in a consortium to hire a crime analyst would presume funding that is not available or would divert funds from existing programs, potentially leading to additional layoffs," Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino wrote in response. 

Patino also stated that while the Santa Maria Police Department used to log local gang data in a statewide database, increasing regulations on the system led the city, along with other jurisdictions across the state, to cease its use altogether. 

According to the jury report, since the CalGang ID system was retired, no database has been created to track activity. However, gang intelligence is shared regularly between the Police Department and county agencies, Patino said. 

While the mayor agreed gangs do sometimes cross jurisdictional boundaries, she said most gang violence in Santa Maria is perpetuated by local gangs within the city. 

Along with decreasing resources from the County Sheriff's Office, the jury also noted insufficient resources in North County areas. According to the report, positive impacts from nonprofit groups like Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley and school-based resources like Por Vida have not been enough to meet the need for at-risk youth support in the North County. 

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors also opted not to implement the grand jury recommendations, outlined in the board's Tuesday response to the report. Board members cited data efforts already in place and lack of funding for a more comprehensive database. 

The grand jury's full report can be found at sbcgj.org

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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The following is taken from the Santa Maria Police Department's calls-for-service log and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office daily arrest log. Those appearing as "arrested" are only suspected of the crime indicated but are presumed innocent.

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