Gang membership among children in Orange County is on the rise. (Photo credit: Don Bartletti, Los Angeles Times)

An increasing number of Orange County children are joining gangs, while at the same time the county lags both the state and nation in per-pupil spending in public schools, according to a new report slated for discussion Tuesday by the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

The 204-page report covers a broad range of issues (including health, safety and education) affecting the county’s 801,536 children age 17 and under, who make up 26.2 percent of the county’s total population of more than 3 million.

The report — compiled by the county’s health, social services and education departments, as well as the District Attorney’s Office and several other legal and children’s organizations — is the latest in a 16-year effort to track the conditions of children in the county.

In its current draft, the report says that “from 2000 to 2009 the number of known gang members age eight to 17 increased by 102 percent, from 916 in 2000 to 1,851 in 2009.”

The report also said that in 2008-09 Orange County trailed the rest of the state and the country as a whole in average per-pupil spending. The Orange County average was $8,724, while the state average was $9,543; nationally it was $10,259.

Although the report doesn’t get into reasons for the increase in gang membership, the figures follow an apparent Southern California and national trend. Time magazine reported last week that gang membership is up nationally, although violent crime is down.

The same trend was true in Los Angeles County, the magazine reported. In Orange County, the rise in gang membership did not lead to an increase in the number of gang-related homicides, which dropped from 24 in 2008 to 19 in 2009, according to the report.

Assistant Orange County District Attorney John Anderson, who heads the section that seeks injunctions against gang members associating with each other, said that from his perspective, the recruitment of children into gangs is historically consistent.

“Most gang members are children,” he said. “It’s always been that way.”

The report credits the injunctions spearheaded by Anderson’s unit and a separate gang prevention program for helping to curb gang violence.

After court injunctions prohibited gang members from associating in five Orange County zones (San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente, Orange, Santa Ana and Anaheim), each of the areas showed significant drops in violent crime, the report said.

The decreases ranged from more than 50 percent in Santa Ana to 14 percent and 15 percent in San Clemente and Orange.


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