Building Trust in Salinas, Calif., to Reduce Violent Crime

From the National League of Cities, by By John A. Calhoun and Kelly McMillin -- Officers Rich Lopez and Jeffrey Lofton have been assigned to work in Salinas' Hebbron Heights District, an area characterized by poverty, high crime and low educational achievement. Their job? Knock on doors. Get to know neighborhood residents. Arrest, if necessary, but primarily help youth get jobs, advocate for them in school, support them in sports activities. Build trust with youth and parents.

Build trust in Salinas, where the trust gap between city officials and residents, many of them poor, many of them undocumented agricultural workers, has been a yawning chasm stretching back to John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath days? Build trust in a city of 150,000 whose homicide rate in 2009 stood at four times the national average and triple that of the rest of the state? Build trust in a city home to 71 gangs (a dozen actively shooting at any given time), 3,500 gang members and associates, and two state prisons? Build trust at the confluence point of the Sureño and Norteño territory, the "boundary" between two of the state's most violent gangs?

Build trust amidst all of this? Yes. And it's paying off. Shootings fell from 151 in 2009 to 131 in 2010 to 49 in 2011. Homicides showed a similar drop - from 29 to 20 to 12 in that same time. Most importantly, wary residents have ventured out to work with city and county leaders to reclaim their neighborhoods.

What happened? A visionary, tireless Mayor Dennis Donohue has partnered with one of this article's authors - Police Chief Kelly McMillin - and Salinas Community Safety Director Georgina Mendoza to pull together all key leaders in Salinas and Monterey County, channeling their efforts through the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP).  Chaired by the mayor and a retired juvenile court judge, with Mendoza serving as its executive director, CASP rests on the core belief that nothing will change unless all key community entities make specific commitments to stop crime and help build communities that do not produce crime. More than 40 strong, CASP members include education professionals, law enforcement officials, probation officers, public health professionals, members of faith communities, family counseling and mentoring experts, and community residents. All pledge to participate in a citywide plan that blends prevention, intervention, enforcement, and reentry to reduce violence and improve community well-being.

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News Item Publication Date: 
Monday, August 20, 2012