Modesto police stepping up their presence after gunfire

Modesto police are continuing to show up in force on city streets after two possibly gang-related shootings Friday that left a toddler hospitalized, a 14-year-old dead and another teenager wounded.

"We're making our presence felt," said Modesto police Sgt. Rick Armendariz, who supervises the Central Valley Gang Impact Task Force. "We're going out and having high visibility. We need to let people know that these gang activities are not going to be tolerated."

The 22-month-old boy, Josue Becerra, was in good condition Monday at a Bay Area hospital. The bullet damaged a kidney and his liver.

There have been no arrests in either case.

Since Saturday, investigators have conducted parole and probation compliance checks on gang members, stopping them at their homes and on the street to try to gather information. They also have talked to witnesses about the shootings Friday that hospitalized Josue around 7:30 p.m. in front of his H Street home and killed Valdimar Rojas Jr. about 2½ hours later on Rock Pine Court in west Modesto.

Valdimar's 15-year-old friend was treated and released at a hospital. Valdimar was visiting Modesto from San Jose, Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden said.

Increased enforcement has worked to subdue gang activity. In 2005, gang investigators flooded parts of south and west Modesto after a bloody night in June that left two men and a teenage boy dead, and a Patterson man in critical condition after being run over. Police saturated the city to prevent retaliation.

At a meeting of Crows Landing business leaders Monday night, Wasden called increased law enforcement "a Band-Aid" to manage emotions that have run high since Friday. He said police would continue increased patrols throughout the city "as long as we need to."

Wasden blamed the gang problem on "the failure of the family" and said people must put family first if the community hopes to see a reduction in gang activity.

"There's no shortcuts or easy answers to these problems," he said.

Several community events in May will give people a chance to discuss gang issues:

City officials are organizing a forum planned for next week; details will be announced soon.

On May 15, area officials will meet in Riverbank to watch a documentary about gang violence and brainstorm ways to stamp out gangs.

On May 19, Wasden said, another organizer is planning an anti-gang march called "Stop the Violence."

On May 24, the King-Kennedy Memorial Center will host a "Hip-Hop Symposium" about youth-on-youth violence.

Despite several high-profile shootings in the past two weeks, there have been fewer shootings this year than there were in the same period last year. From January to April 2007, there were 23 gang-related shootings in Modesto at homes, vehicles and people, according to the the gang task force. Preliminary data from this year indicate there have been about 20 shootings.

"We've just had three incidents in a short period of time, so there's the perception that gangs are running rampant in the community. But the numbers are consistent, if not less, than we had last year," Armendariz said.

"Any shooting is too much," he added. "We are taking a stance on that. If the perception of the community is that people feel unsafe, obviously we want to change that."

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at or 578-2235.