Police Agencies Push County Supervisors for Anti-Gang Funds

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In the wake of a state decision that cut existing redevelopment agency funding for a popular, multi-agency anti-gang initiative targeting North Orange County, law enforcement officials are pressing county supervisors to find nearly $4 million to keep the programs alive.

On Tuesday, both District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Sheriff Sandra Hutchens headed a large contingent of supporters before the county Board of Supervisors. They argued that the programs are crucial and cost effective.

While county supervisors also heralded the programs as a statewide model, they have balked at replacing redevelopment dollars with general fund support and questioned whether law enforcement leaders’ projections of public safety tax collections can be relied upon to fully fund the programs.

Given those doubts, supervisors delayed a decision until budget deliberations on Nov. 20.

The anti-gang effort — gang injunctions and programs known as GRIP, TARGET and the neighborhood enhancement team — received high praise on Tuesday.

Deputy District Attorney Tracy Rinauro gave an impassioned presentation to supervisors, delving into the tangible pain that gangs cause in the community.

Rinauro told the story of Harvey, a 19-year old man who, despite not being in a gang, was shot in the face by gang members simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“They shot him in the face. He died on the way to the hospital” crying out for his mother, she added.

His mother, Maribel, was in the audience Tuesday and asked Rinauro to tell supervisors that “sometimes her heart feels destroyed because of the loss,” Rinauro said.

“We are a community,” said Rinauro. “Orange County is still a community, and when one innocent teenager dies … we say that’s one teenager too much.”

The county’s TARGET program takes gang leaders off the street and prosecutes them, Rinauro said.

Gang injunctions involve suing gang members who stand in parks selling drugs and intimidating people, while neighborhood enhancement teams bring together parents, who serve as neighborhood watch volunteers and greeters at schools.

Finally, the GRIP program “holds parents accountable” by making sure their kids stay in school, Rinauro added. The program uses celebrities to urge children to stay out of gangs.

A 2006 gang injunction, she noted, has made one San Clemente gang “almost nonexistent” today.

“It’s a small and mighty army,” said Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, adding that the programs are “an investment” that ultimately pay off in big ways.

Supervisor Pat Bates echoed that sentiment.

“My feeling is it needs to be spread throughout the state,” Bates said.

“I don’t think there’s anything domestically in Southern California that’s a bigger threat than the advancement of the gang culture,” she added. “You have my support. We do have to be cognizant that money is short,” she said, but the programs are “at the top of my list” of priorities.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson said the board wholeheartedly backs the programs and ultimately will fund them. But, he said, supervisors still need to see the big picture and ensure that this doesn’t cause any other crucial programs to be reduced.

“The only risk here is I don’t know what crucial program is going to be presented next month, and I’m very worried about that, because all of these programs are critical,” said Nelson.

The anti-gang effort is facing repercussions from the state’s slashing of redevelopment dollars, which were once a mainstay of many city and county projects.

The anti-gang programs were funded entirely by redevelopment money, explained Budget Director Frank Kim.

Cities and counties once relied on redevelopment to pay for numerous programs and costs. But the state Legislature cancelled the program last year amid the California budget crisis and alleged misuse of the funds on certain city development projects.

Nelson critiqued earlier county leaders for tying the anti-gang effort to redevelopment funds, which ultimately proved unsustainable.

“We probably should not have relied on redevelopment” for anti-gang programs, said Nelson, again expressing support for the effort itself.

As for the current predicament, Nelson said it comes down to deciding whether any other programs must ultimately to be trimmed. He wants to have all programs in front of supervisors when they make their decision, he said.

“There are more asks than there will be dollars. Sooner or later, we’re going to have some program that does not get fully funded” despite its value to the community, he said.

To cover the anti-gang funding shortfall, law enforcement officials are suggesting supervisors tap a statewide half-cent public safety tax instituted in 1993, often referred to as Proposition 172 funds for the measure that established it.

Because budget managers are projecting growth in sales tax collections, law enforcement leaders argue that the increase can cover the anti-gang programs.

In Orange County, Proposition 172 proceeds are divided between the district attorney and the sheriff.

Kim said Tuesday with the projected increase in Proposition 172 funds, the district attorney would have a sufficient allocation of the public safety tax to cover the anti-gang efforts. Sheriff’s officials plan to use all of their Proposition 172 reserves to cover the anti-gang costs, Kim said.

Board Chairman John Moorlach said he wants to examine those Proposition 172 projections, warning that projections can always be wrong. Moorlach also recalled Kim’s own repeated warnings that county budgetary reserves are running low and need bolstering.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/nicholasgerda.

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