State

Modesto police working on plan to tamp down violence

A 16-year-old gunned down Wednesday and a double homicide Thursday made for a bloody week in Modesto -- but police say they're making changes that could give them the upper hand in fighting violence.

Modesto Police Chief Mike Harden is restructuring his department to move limited resources where they're needed most, he said. Harden has added more officers to the narcotics enforcement team and "refocused" the street crimes unit to target gang activity specifically.

Harden also is working with City Manager Greg Nyhoff and the City Council to identify specific crime-fighting goals. The plan is still coming together, but Harden said it could include a pledge to cut Modesto's gang violence by 5 percent over the next year.

Law enforcement officials usually shy away from such specific promises.

"It's pretty aggressive, but I think the community needs it, the community wants it, and the community demands it," Harden said.

Both Harden and Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said this week's violence was troubling. But both pointed out that overall crime rates are down.

Countywide, crime was at a 20-year low as of 2008, Christianson said. In the city, there's been a 2 percent drop in serious crimes over the past year, Harden said.

16 murders were in city limits

As of Friday, 25 people have been murdered this year in and around the city, including Empire, Salida and Del Rio. Of those, 16 murders have happened inside the city limits. In 2008, the city saw 20 homicides.

Police haven't identified Thursday's victims. Harden said the shooting wasn't a random act.

"Preliminarily, it looks like this is not a random act of violence where someone was going down the road and shooting their gun," Harden said. "It's apparent that there was a lifestyle that contributed to these deaths."

Christianson said the shooting death of a 16-year-old earlier this week should be a warning sign to parents. "I don't know that there's a specific reason we can point to, other than this is a parental supervision problem and a family values problem," Christianson said.

City Councilman Dave Lopez said he was "disheartened" by the recent violence. But he said the city has made some small progress lately. A west-side church, Modesto Church of the Brethren, recently joined Lopez's Partners in Paint graffiti-fighting team.

The church joined Partners in Paint after it held a community outreach meeting where neighbors listed graffiti as a top concern, said community outreach coordinator Leah Knipe.

"It's our community, we're taking it back," Knipe said. "We want to help be that change. I think it's just a baby step, but to every baby step there's a kicking point."

Modesto Church of the Brethren holds its next community outreach meeting at 6 p.m. on Nov. 19 at Alberta Martone Elementary School cafeteria.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378. Follow her at Twitter.com/ BeeReporter.

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