Santa Rosa gang-crime stats spark council debate

A turf war broke out on the Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday over whether the city is doing enough to measure the effectiveness of its gang prevention efforts, with rival council members sparring over whether the debate was a legitimate issue or political posturing.

Following a presentation by police Chief Tom Schwedhelm about the department's efforts to track gang crime statistics, Councilman Gary Wysocky tussled with Mayor Ernesto Olivares, a former police lieutenant who headed the city's gang prevention programs from 2006 to 2008.

Wysocky, citing a January Police Department analysis of five years of gang crime data, sought to portray the city's efforts as falling short of goals.

"Promises were made, and one of the promises was we're going to cut gang crime in half by 2010," Wysocky said. "These numbers say it hasn't happened. We haven't even come close."

Olivares said he "took offense" at Wysocky trying to use a report to "muddy the waters" and mislead the public by inappropriately comparing two sets of data.

"It's almost like yelling fire in a theater. It's not happening," Olivares said. "People see that this city is much safer and much different because of the efforts that have been put out by this community working together."

Following a particularly testy exchange between the two, Councilman Scott Bartley weighed in on the motivations at play in the debate. "I smell election in the air," Bartley said, calling the issue a "tempest in a teapot."

Both Wysocky and Olivares are up for re-election this fall.

But others backed Wysocky's concerns.

Lisa Maldonado, executive director of the North Bay Labor Council, said she previously served on the Measure O Oversight Committee and it was "very frustrating" to not have gang crime statistics provided despite repeated requests. She praised Wysocky for questioning the numbers, which she called "half-baked."

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