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City Council, mayor say ridding Modesto of gangs should be priority

Modesto city officials say they are taking action to help authorities fight a growing gang problem, which came more under the public microscope after a 22-month-old boy was seriously wounded in a drive-by shooting Friday.

Mayor Jim Ridenour said he is working with law enforcement agencies on a plan to put more pressure on gangs. It reflects his pledge in 2006 to assemble a community-based gang task force that would include nonprofit and church groups.

"I want to put a comprehensive deal together to include the city and county, and all of us will go after them and make them miserable," Ridenour said.

Councilman Brad Hawn, meanwhile, is organizing a commu- nity forum for residents to air their concerns about gang violence. It likely will take place next week.

"We've reacted to the situation in a proper manner with increased police presence in the area," Hawn said. "I think getting people to be aware of what's going on will help head this off before it happens next time."

Councilwoman Kristin Olsen said the spate of gang violence would influence her decisions when the council considers a 2007-08 budget plan next month. She said she will not support cuts to the Police Department, and will push to restore the 25 police positions that were left vacant because of this year's budget reductions.

"It's horrible, there's no way to exaggerate how awful it is," Ol-sen said. "It has to be our top priority to attack the gang problem in our community."

Councilman Garrad Marsh likewise said the city needs more police officers. He has urged the council to advance proposals to ask voters for a public safety sales tax, or to charge new homeowners an annual fee for the police and fire departments.

"We need to solve this permanently," he said. "The only way we can do that is to provide more resources."

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

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