Monterey County

Understanding Monterey County's youth homicide rate

SALINAS, Calif. - Recent data from Washington, D.C. based Violence Policy Center shows Monterey County has the highest homicide rate for young people aged 10 to 24. In Salinas, 11 of the city's 34 homicides fell into that category. Four of those shooting victims were under 18 years old, and at least three of those shootings were somehow gang related. The Violence Policy Center says although Monterey County has been at the top of the list four out of the last five years, the county's per capita homicide victimization rate dropped 25% between 2009 to 2013.

Brian Contreras, the executive director of Second Chance Family and Youth Services says he has seen an escalation in gang violence. He says as gangs in Salinas have evolved, so has the increase in violence. He says when he first started working with youth, there weren't many shootings or stabbings.

"It was more fist fights, more chains, knives, tire irons," Contreras said. "It was more running skirmishes, beating each other up."

He said he noticed the change start in the 1990's, when a group from Southern California relocated to Salinas.

"They brought that gang mentality of drive by shootings, fire bombings, and really a structured set to a gang," Contreras said. "And I kind of give to them that nefarious credit, because they changed the whole script of the way things were. The honor among thieves was gone when they started."

In 2015, four teens under 18 have been shot to death. Three of those deaths have gang ties.

On January 13, 17-year-old Cesar Gonzalez was shot to death at his home on East Market. According to Salinas police, three suspects were later arrested for murder with gang enhancements.

On September 28, 17-year-old Bryan Hernandez was one of three people shot and killed on Elkington Avenue. Police were also investigating the killings as gang related.

On November 1, police say 16-year-old Juan Angel Perez was riding his bike home when he was shot and killed on Orchard Avenue. Detectives told News Channel 5 they believed the suspects are involved in gangs.

However, on September 8, 16-year-old Carlos Robles was shot while sitting in a car. Police do not believe his death was gang related at this point.

"Why aren't we outraged when a 16 year old boy is shot riding a bicycle or a 16 year old kid driving a car is killed, or anybody is killed?" Contreras asked. "Where is the outrage to that? Why isn't everybody coming together now to try to address it so we don't have to suffer anymore?"

Neighbors have addressed it in some areas. Contreras says El Dorado Park in Salinas was once well known for gang members and drug dealers. He says neighbors and the Kiwanis Club worked together to create the "Yellow Jackets."

"Yellow Jackets literally started walking around the park, residents started having cameras there, they took over El Dorado Park," Contreras said. "The gangs left, the violence left, the drug dealers left because the residents made a presence there, and they took it over."

At Second Chance, folks there work with at-risk kids and their families doing community-based counseling, education programs and even tattoo removal. At one point, they did have an outreach program, but lost funding when its grants ran out.

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