Due to budget shortfalls, expected layoffs, and regulations surrounding law enforcement agencies sharing databases, the Santa Maria City Council declined recommendations the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury made in a report regarding local handling of juvenile gangs.
As part of the consent calendar at its Sept. 15 meeting, the council decided against implementing the Grand Jury’s recommendations with a unanimous vote to send a signed written response of declination to the presiding judge of the Superior Court.
The response answers the Grand Jury report’s two findings that specifically mention Santa Maria and those findings’ respective recommendations. These are the first finding, that there’s no comprehensive database to identify local gangs and their members, and the sixth, that gang activities cross the jurisdictional boundaries of local law enforcement agencies.
The database finding recommends that the Santa Maria Police Department pool its resources with other local police departments to make a comprehensive database. The latter recommends SMPD join a consortium that includes other local police departments and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, hire a full-time crime analyst, share data, and hire staff to write grants for anti-gang program funding.
While the response signed by Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino agrees with the two findings pertaining to her city, it states it will not implement any of the three recommendations.
While the SMPD historically shared gang intelligence by using a statewide database, a majority of California law enforcement agencies have ceased using it because regulatory requirements on using shared databases have increased over the years.
“As a result, the benefits of using the shared gang database became outweighed by the burdens imposed by the regulations,” the response reads.
While the mayor’s response did agree that gang activities cross into different law enforcement jurisdictions, it stressed that “the overwhelming majority” of gang violence in the city of Santa Maria is committed by people who reside there.
As for the recommendations that SMPD join a consortium, hire a crime analyst and hire grant writers, Mayor Patino wrote that the city is already going to experience layoffs as a result of budget shortfalls.
In an interview with the News-Press, Santa Maria City Council member Mike Cordero said that while all city departments are susceptible to layoffs, there are specifically plans to lay off a couple employees in the Santa Maria City Fire Department. The city hopes that will be avoidable.
“All departments are subject to some layoffs and we’re hoping to minimize that,” Mr. Cordero said.
He added that declining the Grand Jury’s recommendations doesn’t mean the council doesn’t like those recommendations, but rather the city’s concern for its own financial stability amid COVID-19. Paying for a new crime analyst and grant writers would ultimately require taking money away from other city departments.
“We just don’t have the money right now. Everything we do is on a shoestring,” he said.
Despite the city’s limited resources, Mr. Cordero expressed great pleasure with the progress that has been made in preventing youth gang involvement through the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety.
A collaborative of elected officials, community organizations, law enforcement, and schools, the task force provides kids with opportunities like after-school, weekend, and summer programs like sports, trips across the Central Coast, and volunteer opportunities to keep them active in their community.
“We want to offer options other than hanging out at a park where things could happen and trouble could brew,” Mr. Cordero said.
He added the task force’s programs aim to keep kids busy at the age when they could otherwise fall prey to gang recruitment.
“We want to capture young people when they’re in a state of need and at a time in their lives when it’s so easy for them to go in another direction,” he said.