The new state budget approved Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown earmarks about $4.5 million for Merced-area law enforcement to combat gang violence and other law enforcement issues.
The Violence Interruption/Prevention Emergency Response, or VIPER, program uses social media, informants and information databases to intervene before violence happens, according to leaders. Another $20 million in the state’s budget is set to go to police departments with 100 or fewer officers to implement plans to work with young people before they join gangs, among other efforts.
All six police departments in Merced County fit that criteria.
The governor’s signature came on the final day for him to act on the measure, which the Legislature approved mostly along party lines June 15, along with several related budget trailer bills. The measure calls for $122.5 billion in general fund spending and $44.6 billion in special fund spending, along with $3.6 billion in bond spending.
For Merced County VIPER
The Merced-specific funding was pushed through the state Legislature by Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, and state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres.
“Most importantly, though, this budget acknowledges the violent crime and record homicide rate plaguing Merced County and provides the tools necessary to put an end to this crisis,” Gray said in a news release.
“I am proud of the work this budget represents,” Gray said. “This is a huge win.”
Merced County had 93 slayings in the past three years, according to law enforcement officials. The county had 10.9 homicides per 100,000 residents in the latest numbers available, officials confirmed, which is double the state average.
I am proud of the work this budget represents. This is a huge win.
Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced
“A safer Merced County is the goal for all of us,” Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II said in a news release. “This funding provides an incredible opportunity for us to create a state of the art gang prevention program.”
Another $1.1 million in the state budget would pay for emergency preparedness equipment at UC Merced.
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said the funding is going to be a great tool for the county. “The VIPER program is going to be such an essential part in us fighting the gang problem in this county and it is very much appreciated that the governor signed this bill,” he said. “I am also very pleased that UC Merced got the funding they desperately needed to improve their safety concerns at the college.”
The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.