Stopping gang violence takes data, group says

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comNovember 28, 2012 

— In a meeting with city officials and area residents, community leaders from Sacramento on Wednesday stressed the need for a data-based approach to the gang violence prevention program CeaseFire.

A wide range of local nonprofit groups as well as law enforcement and city agencies showed up for the public meeting at City Hall.

In talking about the program, Pastor Sherwood Carthen of Bayside of South Sacramento church stressed the need for a statistical analysis, going back several years, that identifies those who are at the core of the violence.

"We got to get the data first," he said. "And I know y'all have data because you do it on an ongoing basis. But it's got to go back over three years because there are folks who continue to drive the crime."

The program is based on the premise that often a small number of people are at the core of the majority of a city's violent crime.

To reach out to these individuals, law enforcement and community leaders hold "call-ins" in which they present two options: reform or face the consequences.

"Once you find out who's driving the crime, you have got to talk to them," Carthen said. "They've heard before, 'Man, if don't quit doing what you're doing, we going to put you in jail.' But they've never heard from the community, 'We believe in you.' "

The program must then include a number of support program to help people who want to change, he added.

"We had people show up to the call-in that we didn't call because they heard their homie was getting services. So you got to get the data before you just go at this crazy," Carthen said.

Sacramento and other cities around the country have used the CeaseFire formula to reduce gun violence in target areas, officials have said.

Since the spring, members of Merced's faith-based organizations and others have pushed to establish the program in Merced.

"The streets have been plagued with the youth and gang violence," said Rev. Don Ramsey of St. Matthew Baptist Church, who helped organize the event.

It's not clear when Merced will be able to start conducting call-ins. The program costs money to staff and implement, and funding has yet to be secured.

Sacramento spent several hundred thousand dollars to contract with Stewart Wakeling, a statistical expert who has worked on a number of different CeaseFire projects around the state, including Stockton and Oakland.

The city has said it plans to apply for a California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention grant next year. And the Merced Organizing project said it's working with the California Endowment to bring in funding.

Meanwhile, City Manager John Bramble, Police Chief Norm Andrade and Ramsey have said hiring a statistical expert is unnecessary.

"If you went over to the Police Department, they could probably give you two-thirds of the names," Bramble said.

"We have a good handle on who they are," Andrade said. "If we can get the citizens involved, then we can probably identify more of them."

"I don't know how much input the community will make as far as identifying these guys, whoever they are," Ramsey said. "I think it's going to be more on the law enforcement side."

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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