Santa Ana Youth Need More ‘Positive’ Spending, Says New Study by Health Advocates

How to manage investments in police and youth programs have been a longstanding debate in Santa Ana. (Photos by City of Santa Ana and Nick Gerda/Voice of OC)

Santa Ana officials spend more money arresting young people than developing them positively through libraries, mentorship, job skills and other initiatives, according to a new study commissioned by health advocates.

“The city’s future will depend on how well we invest and treat our youth and, unfortunately, the city is investing too much on punishment,” said Abraham Medina, executive director of Resilience OC, the activist group that released the study Monday with support from the nonprofit Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities coalition.

City officials, meanwhile, say they’ll need time to review the report’s findings and their own data before commenting on whether the report is accurate.

(Click here to read the report.)

Santa Ana’s overall population is one of the youngest in the nation and has an ongoing debate over how to handle its investments in youth development and law enforcement.

Members of the Building Healthy Communities group have long argued the city needs to expand its investments in youth development.

As part of that effort, Resilience OC commissioned the new study, which estimated the portion of city spending devoted to youth aged zero through 19 this fiscal year.

The conclusion: Santa Ana will spend $19.5 million this year arresting youth, and $15.3 million on what the study’s authors called “positive youth development” like libraries and parks.

The report did not include spending on after school programs and other youth services by the Santa Ana Unified School District.

Advocates with the health coalition say the city government’s spending dynamic needs to change.

“Youth make-up one third of our city’s population, however, they are the least supported by the city,” Medina said in a statement.

“Our youth need investments in real safety, such as after school programs, community centers, and in data driven responses to youth behavior that are not the police department,” he added.

City officials said they haven’t had a chance to confirm the report’s accuracy, but stand ready to review and discuss it with the activists.

“I am not familiar with the [Building Healthy Communities] report nor on the type of methodology that they took to arrive at their conclusion,” said Acting City Manager Gerardo Mouet in an email Sunday to Voice of OC.

Mouet added that Police Chief Carlos Rojas told him “that he has no knowledge of the [activists’] report and that the [Police] Department does not track costs related to juvenile arrests.”

He asked that the activists “please share the report and be prepared to meet with me and discuss. Perhaps this could develop as an opportunity to increase the public awareness about these efforts.”

Mouet told Voice of OC last month he believed the city has its own figures for how much it spends on youth programs and would provide it within a day. But, after multiple follow-up emails from Voice of OC over the following weeks, he said Sunday it was still in the works.

The issue of how much to invest in youth programs and police was a hot-button one in last year’s City Council election.

Several candidates pointed to rising crime rates as evidence the city needs to focus on expanding its police force and restoring specialized units like a gang strike force and vice squad.

Between 2013 and 2016, shooting assaults tripled and violent crime overall jumped 40 percent, according to police department data. Homicides nearly doubled last year from the prior year.

Other candidates – including those backed by the health activists – emphasized expanding the city’s focus on youth development, arguing that increasing opportunities for young people would be beneficial to youth and help reduce crime.

In the end, those who emphasized investing in law enforcement won by large margins in November, helped in part by major spending by the city’s police union to get the candidates’ message before voters.

The Building Healthy Communities study also looked at spending by the County of Orange, which is responsible for public health services, including mental health, as well as jails, probation and prosecution.

It found an even starker disparity in county government spending, with $16 million spent countywide on “positive youth programming” through libraries and workforce development and $143 million spent on what the study called “suppression” of youth through the sheriff’s and probation departments.

The study, however, did not take into account youth development spending through the county Social Services Agency and Health Care Agency, nor prosecution spending through the District Attorney’s Office.

And the study counts the probation department entirely as “suppression.” In recent years the department says it has invested in programs to try to improve the behavior of youth without locking them up.

One such program is “aggression replacement training,” where over the course of 30 sessions, youth learn social skills, anger control, and moral reasoning.

A top probation department official says this type of approach is proven to work.

“Research indicates that anti-social thinking is the primary factor that drives criminal behavior,” and by teaching social behavior to kids they’re less likely to commit crimes, said Doug Sanger, the department’s juvenile hall director, in a 2015 interview.

By many key measures, children in Santa Ana’s low-income, densely populated neighborhoods have far fewer opportunities than their peers in nearby cities. It also has among the fewest per-capita police officers among similarly-sized cities in California.

Part of that has to do with the fact that Santa Ana has among the lowest property tax revenues per-resident of any city in Orange County.

Much of this seems to be related to overcrowded housing, which is a particularly common issue in Santa Ana amid high housing costs and low family incomes. Multiple families often live in a single apartment, though the extra occupancy doesn’t lead to additional property tax revenue for city services.

The budget analysis was conducted for the Building Healthy Communities coalition by Advancement Project California, a civil rights advocacy group. The Building Healthy Communities coalition is funded by the California Endowment, the state’s largest health foundation.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at

  • Falpherst

    Great article. It was not lost on me that even juvenile justice leaders support youth intervention over criminalization: ““Research indicates that anti-social thinking is the primary factor that drives criminal behavior,” and by teaching social behavior to kids they’re less likely to commit crimes, said Doug Sanger, the department’s juvenile hall director, in a 2015 interview.”

    • LFOldTimer

      Maybe they should teach some social behavior skills to illegal alien criminals who violate our immigration laws and a host of other laws before they break into our country? To be consistent you and Sanger should agree with that statement. Or does appropriate social behavior only apply to those on US soil?

      • David Resendez

        The man or woman with no job and no conscience yammers on again. Folks, you cannot reason with a racist. Let him/her chase his tail.

        • LFOldTimer

          More meaningless vitriol and tripe from the cheap seats. lol.

          Come back to the boards when you grow a pair large enough to actually debate my arguments.

          I won’t hold my breath. 😉

          • Falpherst

            Cheap seats? LFOldTimer, by far the most compulsive and hasty commenter on Voice of OC, is the queen of cheap seats.

          • LFOldTimer

            People in the cheap seats just throw stones.

            Discussion boards are for opinions, discussion and an exchange of ideas. Those who refuse to debate the valid arguments that I put forth and instead only throw stones I consider cheap seat ticket holders.

            More liberal tolerance. lol.

  • LFOldTimer

    It’s ironic that Santa Ana’s leadership would rather fund more ways to put their young people in jail as opposed to financing programs to keep them out.

    Yet they’ll do whatever’s necessary to protect illegal aliens who come into their city. Even create a sanctuary city to defy the laws and fund civil immigration attorneys to represent illegals in CIVIL cases. ha.

    With increasing lawlessness promoted by the city leaders they need more cops to bust more people who live within their city limits and can’t figure out why crime is going up. ha.

    Oh, I defy a US citizen living in Santa Ana (are there any left?) to ask your leaders for funds to hire a civil attorney the next time you find yourselves in legal ca-ca. See what they tell you. lol.

    It seems that illegals living in Santa Ana have more rights than US citizens living there.

    What a bizarro city lead by a group of morons. Illegals are protected while there is a war on crime in progress!!! LOL!

    • Quailman

      There are plenty of legal residents living in Santa Ana, and I am one of
      them- and I’m happy that my city is a sanctuary city. I seriously doubt
      undocumented residents have more rights than legal residents. That is an absurd conjecture.

      I hope we can find balance between policing efforts and investing in
      youth development programs. Additionally, the current candidates backed
      by the police union are terribly corrupt, and were funded to the tune of
      $400,000 by the SAPD union, and I don’t appreciate or respect their
      presence on the council. That’s not to say the police department doesn’t
      have a role to play, but the means by which they are pursuing power on
      our council is unscrupulous and further damages the police department’s moral
      authority- something they really should be more mindful of if they want
      to work cooperatively and effectively with their community. I
      personally favor preventative services that provide our low-income youth and families opportunities to succeed.

      • LFOldTimer

        Well, your city approved to fund civil attorneys to fight for illegal immigrants in their civil deportation cases.

        I challenge you to go to SA city hall and demand the city to pay for a civil attorney the next time you need one. Then come back and tell me that illegals don’t have more rights than you have.

        If one of your fellow citizens in Santa Ana steals a car or sells drugs or has traffic warrants or shoplifts – will he or she be protected (given sanctuary) from prosecution like an illegal alien?

        I guess you haven’t bothered to put much thought into the situation.

        • Falpherst

          I am a born citizen, I am white, and I strongly support allowing city attorneys to serve undocumented residents for civil deportation cases. I think it is cruel and inhumane to do otherwise. I would be very upset if my city revoked such a basic right.

          • LFOldTimer

            You have a right to your opinion. And the rest of us have a right to ours. And I happen to think that anyone who supports giving foreigners who willfully violated our immigration laws and a myriad of other US laws (labor laws, identity theft laws, etc…) more rights than American citizens have inside our own nation is anti-American and should move to another country. They should go find a country with open borders that has no immigration laws. Good luck.

          • Falpherst

            I do not approve of your views. That should be quite obvious. In fact, most OC residents do not agree with your views. Your views are increasingly out of touch, regardless of (or perhaps, because of) the hasty prejudiced comments you post every day.

          • LFOldTimer

            Maybe most of the residents in Santa Ana would not be in agreement with my views since nearly half are in the country illegally. I will agree with you there.

            But the majority of OC residents would certainly agree with my viewpoints. So you are dead wrong there.

            So you attack the messenger without debating the messenger’s comments?

            I would call that a lack of credibility.

            You lose.

    • Citizens for Animal Shelter, O

      1. We have been attempting for years to educate both the Orange County Board of Supervisors and cities which contract with the 76 year old and single county animal shelter. “”Children trained to extend justice, kindness, and mercy to animals become more just, kind and considerate in their relations to each other. Character training along these lines will result in men and women of
      broader sympathies, more humane, more law-abiding – in every respect more valuable citizens.
      Humane education is teaching the principles of justice, goodwill, and humanity toward all life. The cultivation of the spirit of kindness to animals is but the starting point of every race and clime. A generation of people trained in these principles will solve their international difficulties as
      neighbors and not as enemies.”
      Orange county is currently so far behind, San Diego County with same population has 3 county animal shelters and 4 nonprofit humane society campuses which teach Humane Education to children and assist with animal adoptions vs Orange county which has 1 county animal shelter and ZERO nonprofit humane society campuses.
      2.I would like to see OC government focus on the CAUSE rather than the EFFECT. The current county animal shelter received 5 OC Grand Jury Reports and a negative performance audit before the county started to build a replacement. Meanwhile, cities (including Santa Ana which is only 2nd to Anaheim for the most animals received and killed at the shelter) stood by and allowed the shelter to deteriorate to unhealthy and unsafe conditions. Not one contract city offered to build a new shelter, instead they built more housing developments bringing in more families with more children and more animals.


      3. There are currently NO animal shelters in North County. Down in South county, there appears to be some land which will soon be available. I hope the politicians partner with nonprofits and developer “friends” to build facilities for children, such as a Boys and Girls club and a nonprofit humane society campus instead of more housing developments otherwise they are going to have more to deal with than lack of parking and traffic.


      • LFOldTimer

        Thanks for you reply.

        But my comment had nothing to do with animals or animal shelters.

        • Citizens for Animal Shelter, O

          You stated “It’s ironic that Santa Ana’s leadership would rather fund more ways to put their young people in jail as opposed to financing programs to keep them out.” That is to what I was responding.