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Gangs flourish when the good fail to take a stand
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Many good neighborhoods, regardless of their economic status, are being infiltrated by gang criminals. The gang presence in these neighborhoods creates safety problems and destroys the quality of life for those who live there. This growing problem has serious implications for neighbors and for the community as a whole.

The typical problems these neighborhoods are experiencing involve harassment of neighbors, especially the teenagers who live there. Drug dealing, reckless driving, late-night gatherings with loud noise and littering, drinking, drug use, and other disruptive behaviors are common. With the gang members, comes the tagging on fences, homes, streets, sidewalks, and even on cars. The bigger threats are the gangland-style conflicts that come in the form of physical fights and even drive-by shootings. Having gang members in one's neighborhood (in most instances), constitutes a major threat to neighborhood safety, peace, serenity and housing values.

Gang members, as individuals, are generally powerless by themselves and have to rely on weapons or banding together with several others to carry out their crimes or acts of intimidation. It is therefore uncommon to see these individuals engaging in any significant misconduct unless they are teamed up with several other gang members. Most of the time, they "hang with the gang," to maintain their status and their own safety.

Combating the effects of gangs in neighborhoods is a problem primarily because of the intimidation factor. Too many good neighbors are afraid of calling the police owing to the fear of retribution. They and the gang members know that the police cannot remain in the neighborhood at all times, so to minimize conflict, neighbors simply accept the gang misconduct and try to stay out of their way. On top of this problem is a tendency for some people, those from Mexico or other countries, to not trust the police. Between these two factors, neighbors end up being virtual hostages of their crime-ridden neighborhoods. So, when no one speaks up, or witnesses fail to report crimes because of fear of retribution by the gangs or distrust of the police, the gangs become free to grow, prosper and, essentially, do what they please. Entire neighborhoods transform into gang havens every year and there is no end in sight to the pattern.

Gangs have already shown a continuing trend of becoming progressively more violent and taking over more neighborhoods. What has happened in Mexico with the drug cartels, seemingly unending violence, and attacks on the police and other government institutions is also starting to happen here in the United States. The only way the problem will be thwarted is if citizens become part of the solution, work as a team with the police to prevent and report crimes in their neighborhoods, for society to raise children with a gang-free mindset, and for the criminal justice system to be allowed to treat the hardcore street gang criminals as the terrorists they are.

Local police departments are fully aware of the problems with neighborhood gangs, and the reluctance of neighbors to report the suspicious or criminal behaviors they witness. Without cooperation of the good citizens and neighbors in our community, the police cannot solve the gang problem in our neighborhoods. When you see suspicious people, vehicles, or activities in your neighborhood, it is important to call the police, even if you are doing so anonymously. You can contact Crime Stoppers for Stanislaus County at 572-9543, which is a good source to anonymously report criminal suspects. You can also ask the police dispatchers to refrain from letting violators know that you are the reporting party. The Ceres Police Department, like most other law enforcement agencies, also offers the opportunity to meet privately with concerned neighbors at a location where such meeting attendance would be kept secret from the local gang members. To request such a meeting in Ceres, for example, you can call the Watch Commander or Police Chief's office.

By reporting illegal activities and bringing these problems to the attention of the police, it will help them work with you towards bringing peace, security and safety back to your neighborhood. And please keep in mind that solutions to these problems do not come overnight. They took years to develop, so it makes sense that it may take some time to resolve. Regardless of the time it takes to correct the neighborhood gang problems, now is the time to get started or change will never come.