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Santa Rosa outlines new plan to fight gang violence

  • Ernesto Olivares (PD FILE, 2011)

Santa Rosa on Wednesday released its new four-year plan for tackling gang violence.

The revamped strategic plan of the Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force includes two new goals.

One is to focus on regional gang efforts by helping neighboring communities learn from and replicate Santa Rosa's efforts.

The other goal involves placing a greater emphasis on helping youth offenders steer clear of gang life after they are released from detention.

"Are we ready, when they come back, to make sure they have the resources and support systems in place to be successful when they're ready to turn their lives around?" asked Mayor Ernesto Olivares at a press conference at Santa Rosa Plaza.

The plan incorporates several elements from Sonoma County's efforts to deal with the additional 400 offenders it predicts it will be responsible for as a result of state prison realignment.

These include establishment of a day reporting center to keep tabs on offenders while helping them get training, education and job assistance.

The plan was released to coincide with the city's fourth annual Gang Prevention Awareness Week and to highlight Santa Rosa's hosting of the annual conference of the California Cities Gang Prevention Network today and Friday.

Who was footing the bill for the event was one of many questions raised at Tuesday's City Council meeting by Anne Seeley, chairwoman of Concerned Citizens for Santa Rosa. Seeley also suggested Olivares, who faces re-election in November, was engaging in political posturing.

Funding cuts have forced representatives of the 13 cities in the network to pay their own way for the two-day conference, said Jack Calhoun, director of the network and a consultant on state and federal gang programs.

"The cities are coming on their own dime," Calhoun said.

A handful of local officials turned out to tout the city's comprehensive approach to gang prevention.

Robert Ochs, the county's chief probation officer, said that while some communities view gangs solely as a law enforcement issue, "this community is taking the wise approach" of a community-wide solution.

Roseland School District Superintendent Gail Ahlas said gangs erode her ability to ensure students reach their full educational potential.

"We can't do this if our children are influenced, if they are pressured, or if they are endangered by gang influences," Ahlas said. "Creating a safe community really does take a team, and the Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force is that team."

Following the press conference, Olivares and Calhoun headed to Sacramento to meet with state legislators.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com.

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