By Ashley Bautista, Civic Engagement VPD
Gang related crimes and arrests increased in 2015. The two detectives assigned to gang activity, Corporal Marchetti and Officer Pusen, recently reported to the Ventura City Council on this activity. There were 32 violent gang crimes and 607 gang related arrests in 2015, an increase from previous years. In 2014 there were 13 violent gang crimes and 493 gang related arrests and in 2013 there were 17 violent gang crimes and 469 gang related arrests.
Ventura has ten documented gangs and 1,100 documented gang members. Gangs are essentially a group of “two or more” people who form an allegiance for a common purpose and engage in on-going criminal activity. Usually, the gang has a name, claims a particular territory or neighborhood and directs its criminal activity and intimidation towards rival gangs and the general population in the form of robberies, violent assaults, narcotics sales and property crimes.
In the 1990s, a seven member gang unit was formed to address gang activity. The unit focused on proactive policing strategies, which included more officers patrolling and strengthening community relationships within the known gang territory, youth gang intervention along with officers conducting regular parole and probation searches to known gang offenders. The presence of the gang unit directly impacted the amount of gang activity. The seven member gang unit was disbanded in 2011 because of budget cuts that eliminated fifteen sworn officer positions. Five gang unit members were assigned to patrol to provide a need in patrol staffing and two were assigned to Major Crimes investigations to re-actively investigate violent gang crimes. Proactive work was an important factor in the seven member gang unit. By focusing full time on gangs, the unit’s members got to know individual gang members, where they lived, who they spent time with, and their probation terms. With the detailed knowledge, gang unit officers could quickly give other officers ideas about potential suspects during major gang investigations.
Preventing youth from becoming victimized by gangs or influenced to associate with gangs is key to reducing gang activity. The Ventura Police Community Foundation helps support prevention efforts through funding of after school programs and youth activities that serve over 500 local children per year. The two designated gang detectives are limited in their ability to focus on prevention efforts because much of their time is spent on investigations, but residents can be proactive in assisting with gang prevention.
Residents should report graffiti to the City graffiti hotline at 805-654-7805 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rapid removal tells vandals that people care about their place of business and neighborhood and that their work has little chance of being seen. The gang’s power grows through the use of fear and intimidation. A neighborhood that is united and dedicated in a spirit of cooperation toward stopping crime and violence will greatly hamper gang efforts. We encourage residents to use tools like Nextdoor.com, our virtual neighborhood watch program, to get to know their neighbors. We also encourage residents to report suspicious activity to our non-emergency number at 805-650-8010 or 911 in an emergency.
Our hope is that in 2016 we will see an increase in the resources available to tackle this increase in gang activity and increase the amount of Officers assigned to the Gang Unit.