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Gang-related killings proliferated like cancer
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The number of homicides in Stanislaus County since 2006 is now 123, and the increasing trend shows no sign of abating. People living in neighborhoods where these homicides have taken place already fear for their safety and the safety of their families. With recent events, where multiple persons have been attacked and unintended victims are being struck by bullets (like a 10-year old boy hit in the head by gunfire), more people are showing signs that they have finally had enough. They are asking what can be done to prevent this from happening in the future and how soon can we get started on solutions.

The problem of homicides in this county, like many others in the Valley, is that gangs have proliferated like an aggressive cancer. Not only are violent criminals entering this country, but we are "growing our own" right here in our communities. The gang culture is now so steeped in our society that there are multiple generations within families of fully-committed gang members. Many parents who are gang members are all too pleased to adorn their young children in the clothing and colors of gangs.

These kids grow up as gang members and, with few exceptions, stay in this mode for a lifetime. They are taught to be aggressive, do whatever is necessary for the gang, and that the only rules they should follow are those of the gang itself. Our laws, institutions, and society's mainstream is of no importance to these gang extremists. People who grow up in this fashion have but a scant chance (or desire) to ever hold a decent job, get properly educated or otherwise become productive members of society.

In some instances, gang members will leave the gang when they have kids, get older, and lose some of the aggressive tendencies, which tends to occur with males, in particular, as they enter their thirties or forties. The threat of arrest, prison, or even being killed by opposing gang members are hardly deterrents to hardcore gang members. In fact, jail or prison time is considered a badge of honor, and having been shot (and survived) elevates a gang member's status in the organization.

In this county, there are some 4,500 known gang members, with some 10,000 individuals in total suspected of having criminal gang involvement. Stanislaus County has approximately 500,000 residents, so with 10,000 gang criminals living here, it should be no surprise that there are so many homicides, drive-by shootings and so much graffiti vandalism. It is like our communities have become infested with criminals who exist on the fruits of their crimes and in some cases, live off of public resources like welfare, free healthcare and the like. It is very disconcerting to think that our tax dollars are, in some cases, actually supporting the very criminals who prey on our communities.

It would be fatalistic to make no effort to stomp out gangs and their criminal activities. Indeed, it is a daunting task, and if nothing new is done, the problem will grow exponentially over the coming years. And part of the problem has been that many good people accept gang-related crime as a problem limited to the gangs themselves. Some people applaud the news when gang members are killed, feeling no threat to their personal safety, since these crimes are deemed "not random." But as our neighborhoods are taken over, our kids are having to live in fear of the gangs, or worse yet, are forced to join the gang or be brutalized by it, the problem then becomes very real for people previously unaffected by the carnage.

There are far more gang criminals than there are police or jails, and frankly, while the police have and will continue to hold back the tide of criminal gang activities, this, like most all other crime, is society's problem. What we tolerate in the name of that which "does not affect us," and the fact that a large percentage of our society, albeit innocently, buys into the popular culture that surrounds the gang milieu, and by looking the other way, we help to allow gangs to grow in size, and increase their impact on community safety.

Homicide trends suggest that there are more killings in the spring and fall of each year. Fall is just a few months away, so we could very well see even more homicidal violence than what has happened during these past several weeks. The police, for sure, have their role in suppressing crime and I can only imagine how bad things would be here if not for our local law enforcement agencies, the county gang intelligence task force and the other participating federal agencies. But it is not enough. Nor does law enforcement have the societal answers or means to exert the kind of influence necessary to really reverse the problem. Family interventions are necessary, whole neighborhoods and the faith community; hence, the entire community, must rise up and tackle this problem together.

It may be that those who are too steeped in the gang lifestyle already are too far gone to recover for the good. Unfortunately, they are the ones who must simply be put behind bars - for life, if necessary, to protect the rest of society. It is the newcomers, those vulnerable to gang inducement that must be saved, and that is where society can achieve its greatest anti-gang accomplishments.

We, in law enforcement, do not have all the answers, but we stand ready to work hand-in-hand with the community to do whatever is necessary to roll back the tide of gang proliferation and violence. Community and county-wide town hall meetings may be the best forums to address these issues, and frankly, the leadership must come from elected officials and grass roots leaders. If we continue to only do the same things that are being done now (which, in effect, leaves the entire problem in the hands of law enforcement), we will continue to see the same results. It is time for a dramatic change.