SALINAS, Calif. - UPDATE 8/8/2016 6:15 PM:
On Monday, Salinas city leaders announced a new street outreach program aimed at reducing violent crimes.
The timing is crucial. As on Monday, there have been 22 homicides in Salinas this year. In the last week and a half, there have been four and police say they are all gang-related.
"It's another opportunity for us to reach out to the community and to keep young people on the right track," Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter said.
This new street outreach program comes four years after a pilot program in the Hebbron area. The city called it successful, citing a drop in violent crime by a third from 2009 to 2012. The strategy has been in use for some 50 years and was pioneered in bigger cities like Boston and Chicago.
With money from Measure G and the state, the city plans to hire four street outreach specialists and a coordinator to oversee the operation, which should be fully operational by the start of next year. Community safety administrator Jose Arreola said the team will focus on middle and high school-aged students at places like bus stops, during lunch and major events. While they admit they won't know each kid on a first-name basis, these boots on the ground are keeping their ear to the ground.
"It puts people on the street in real time, talking to people, building relationships, connecting them to the resources they need to be connected to," Arreola said. "Beyond that, it's been shown to be quite effective in reducing the number of youth who enter and become active members of a gang."
At this point, the new outreach effort doesn't target specific neighborhoods, rather the entire city.
"Overall it's good because I have felt, in my opinion, and I speak for others, there have been some other neglected parts of Salinas that haven't been touched," community activist Debbie Aguilar said. "They've been focused a lot on just Hebbron. I'd like to see that, really see that happen. Take them all over the city."
The team isn't on-call and won't respond to shootings with law enforcement. Their role after a crime is critical.
"That trauma is ongoing," Arreola said. "So being there in the aftermath is almost more important and we believe we have the team in place that knows how to do that effectively. They'll be trained in crisis response. They'll have a way in talking to the community."
Aguilar said she's tired of the violence, having been to another young person's funeral the night before.
"I've seen enough hardship in the city of Salinas, been to too many funerals and just to hear what I heard last night, another mother and father weeping for their young son in a coffin, that's something that never leaves you. It's a haunting thing," Aguilar said.
Salinas city leaders are looking to major cities like Chicago, Boston and San Jose for help in reducing violent crime. The new Salinas "Street Outreach" program is based on the Interrupters model developed in Chicago.
How does it work and how is it different from the city's previous efforts? KION's Mariana Hicks spoke with Salinas officials today about their expectations for the new program. Look for her story tonight at 5 and 6.