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Modesto's crime rate is down since September

Six months into a new strategy to fight Modesto's gang violence, police say they're seeing some positive results.

The city has seen fewer gang-related shootings, and gang members are responding to outreach programs that offer a way out of gangs.

Police Chief Mike Harden said he's cautiously optimistic the changes can be traced to the gang-fighting strategies he launched in September. But he said the real test will come after the department has 12 months of crime data to analyze.

Harden gave an update on gang-related crime at the City Council's Safety and Communities Committee meeting Monday night. Council members Dave Lopez, Garrad Marsh and Joe Muratore sit on the committee.

Harden has targeted gang-related violent crime as a top priority. He wants Modesto to see a 3 percent drop in such crimes in 2010.

Overall, crime in Modesto fell last year, but the crime that remains is more likely to be violent and more likely to be caused by gangs. Car thefts, robberies, rapes and burglaries decreased in 2009, but homicides and serious assaults went up.

More and more of those violent crimes are committed by gang members. For example, 69 percent of Modesto's shootings last year were gang-related, compared with 39 percent in 2005.

Harden's strategy attacks gang crime on several fronts. He reorganized his department and created a unit devoted to investigating gang crimes. Police also are working with other law enforcement agencies and community groups on an intervention program called Project SAFE (Striving for Accountability and Future Employment).

Gang members are warned to stop violence and told that if they don't, police will crack down on them. The program provides educational opportunities and social services meant to help gang members build lives away from gangs.

Police have introduced 46 gang members to Project SAFE. Of those, half have taken advantage of the program's services.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378. Follow her at http://twitter.com/beereporter.

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