Suggests database that includes a gang roster across county jurisdictions
The Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury published seven recommendations for curbing youth participation in street gangs. Most of its solutions focused on law enforcement operations, after-school programs and vocational programs.
The jury interviewed representatives from most of the local law enforcement agencies — including the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, Santa Barbara Police Department and Santa Maria Police Department, as well as county executives and educators.
Of the 20 organizations interviewed for the report, only one organization, Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley, was a community-based non-profit organization. The jury did not interview any religious organizations, minority community groups or parents.
The jury mentions some gang-risk factors, including poverty, strained “family situations,” protection and peer pressure. But the report does not thoroughly discuss how these factors cause gang participation or how local government can help mitigate them.
The report cites the state’s 2017 Healthy Kids Survey, which found in Santa Barbara County, 4.6% of 7th grade boys, 3.5% of 7th grade girls, 5.2% of 9th grade boys, 2.4% of 9th grade girls and 6.7% of 11th grade boys and 2.5% of 11th grade girls claimed to be gang members.
The report noted that most juvenile gang members are 13 to 18 years old, but membership is growing for youth under age 15.
“Gangs take advantage of girls under 18, as they are no longer prosecuted for prostitution. Some girls confuse the money they make for the gang with love and respect, not understanding the danger,” the report read.
“The trend toward recruiting younger members holds true, especially after changes in the laws that do not penalize minors as severely as adults,” the report read. It noted that young gang associates or “wannabes” are often eager to prove themselves to the gang.
The Sheriff’s Office provided the jury with a list of 18 named gangs, two in Santa Barbara, three that cover Goleta and Isla Vista, three in Lompoc, two with ties to Lompoc and Santa Maria, and eight in Santa Maria.
The jury found that gangs rarely respect jurisdictions and operate all over the county, not just their home turf.
Law enforcement officers told the jurors that the cumulative effect of criminal law reforms, including AB 260, which barred children from being sent to adult courts in 2013, and SB 1391, which disallowed youth under 16 into adult court in 2018, is that arrests are down and the number of youth in detention are down.
The juvenile arrest rate dropped 84% from 1980 to 2016, but fell only 9% for adults over that same period. The Santa Barbara County Probation Department reported a 48% decline in supervised juveniles from 2016 to 2019.
“The kids haven’t changed. The laws have.” One officer said that Proposition 47 has made things harder for them by reclassifying some felonies as misdemeanors, which may not lead to an arrest,” the report read.
The jury found that officers have become reluctant to transport juveniles to the juvenile detention center in Santa Maria because they will often be released in a matter of hours and noted that gang charges have become harder to prosecute.
According to probation department statistics, the number of children with gang terms and conditions rose from 2017 to 2019 from 199 to 221.
According to the report, the Sheriff’s Office Gang Unit was the victim of budget cuts in 2017. The state gang database CalGangs was discontinued amid criticism from advocacy groups concerned about wrongful identifications of use. The jury suggested local law enforcement agencies pool their resources and gang intelligence to create a county-wide gang task force and comprehensive gang roster database.
The jury requested responses from several county agencies within 90 days. It asked the Sheriff’s Office to respond in 60 days.
The full report is available at http://www.sbcgj.org/2020/JuvenileGangs.pdf