Since 2004, when Santa Rosa voters approved Measure O, taxpayers have spent more than $7 million on gang prevention and intervention programs.
The goal has been to undermine the growing influence of gangs by supporting programs to reform existing gang members and keep at-risk youth from being drawn to gangs.
To ensure the programs were effective, the city's gang-prevention officials vowed to work with the Santa Rosa Police Department to closely track gang crime statistics in the city.
Members of the Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force committed to "develop a standard statistical reporting format" allowing "community decision makers to quickly and easily understand and interpret gang-related criminal data and trends."
Seven years into the program, that hasn't happened.
As a result, the issue of the effectiveness of anti-gang efforts — and the need for a $119,000-a-year gang czar — is likely to dominate Tuesday's City Council meeting.
Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm will brief the council on how he measures the success of the department's gang crime strategy.
The Police Department tracked gang crime statistics using one system before 2007, stopped doing it at all from 2008 to 2010 because of budget cuts, and now is using a new method that cannot be compared to previous years.
The changes have made it impossible for the department to say with certainty whether gang crime, which city officials vowed to cut in half by 2010, is up or down.
That troubles Councilman Gary Wysocky, who says the public deserves clear data about whether or not the city's gang-prevention programs are working.
"We've spent millions of dollars and we have no idea to what effect?" Wysocky said last week.
The debate also will offer a preview of what could become an issue in the upcoming election cycle between two political rivals. Mayor Ernesto Olivares, a former police officer who once headed the city's anti-gang efforts, and Wysocky, who has expressed concern about the growing costs of police services, are both up for re-election this fall.
Olivares said the city's programs are successful and are being regularly measured to ensure the city's safety net for kids is as strong as possible.
Gang crime statistics are one tool, but budget cuts approved by the council limited the department's ability to gather and analyze that data. The recent return of that capability is cause for celebration, not criticism, he said.
"That's why I'm excited to have it back, because it's going to help us do things we said we were going to do," Olivares said. "It's the missing piece."
In 2003, in response to rising gang violence, the city established the Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force, a partnership of city and county agencies, schools and nonprofit groups.
The goal was to get away from enforcement-only gang strategy in favor of a communitywide approach that would foster nurturing, supportive environments for kids and counter the lure of gang life.
The following year, voters passed Measure O, a 20-year, quarter-cent sales tax whose funds are divided 40 percent to police, 40 percent to fire and 20percent to gang prevention. The tax originally was projected to raise about $7 million a year. The recession caused that figure to drop below $6 million in 2010, but revenues have since rebounded somewhat.
The gang-prevention program is run out of the city's Recreation, Parks & Community Services Department. It includes after-school programs, grants to organizations for youth and parenting programs focusing on gang and antiviolence education, and programs for kids and job training and social programs for adults through the city's Neighborhood Revitalization Program.
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