South County police seek gang-prevention grant

No plans for downtown police beat

Efforts to halt gang activity in South Santa Clara County could
soon have a face.
Efforts to halt gang activity in South Santa Clara County could soon have a face.

Police in Gilroy and Morgan Hill are after $750,000 in federal grant funds that would allow the departments to share two new positions designed to spearhead efforts to remedy gang-related issues in both communities, according to the Gilroy Police Department.

The three-year positions would include a full-time gang prevention coordinator and a part-time crime analyst, with the majority of the grant paying for salary and benefits for the positions, said GPD Sgt. Chad Gallacinao.

The coordinator would work with the GPD’s Anti-Crime Team to develop and promote town hall meetings to discuss ways to prevent gang participation. The coordinator would also create partnerships with city organizations, draft a strategic plan and attend Gilroy Gang Task Force meetings, Gallacinao said.

He said the coordinator would help guide at-risk youth and gang members wishing to get out of the gang lifestyle.

Gilroy City Councilman Perry Woodward said he supported the idea of bringing on a gang-prevention coordinator.

“We need to realize the gang problem is in some ways, a failing of the community,” Woodward said. “We need to help at-risk youth, give them a better option than joining a gang.”

The grant application was submitted to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention this week, Gallacinao said. Now, police will wait to see if they get their wish.

“As of now, we do know when we will be notified if we did or did not receive the grant,” Gallacinao wrote in an e-mail.

The grant application comes roughly a week after suspected gang-related shootings on two consecutive nights in Gilroy had some residents worried that retaliatory incidents would continue.

On March 9, a 22-year-old man was hospitalized after he was shot while standing in a garage in the 300 block of Lewis Street.

The next night, police responded to a report of gunfire in the 800 block of Monticelli Drive. No injuries were reported, but police said the shooting’s suspected targets believed the incident was connected to the Lewis Street shooting. Several residents said they feared the second shooting was a retaliation.

Gallacinao said the shootings were being investigated by the GPD’s Anti-Crime Team. As of Thursday, no arrests had been made and the GPD declined to release whether it had identified any potential suspects, a move that could compromise the ongoing investigation, Gallacinao said.

Peter Leroe-Muñoz, a Gilroy City Councilman and San Benito County deputy district attorney, said he hoped the incidents were isolated, but said, “we see that, oftentimes, that’s not the case.”

On Jan. 27, a woman also was hospitalized after being struck in the head by bullet fragments in a gang-related drive-by shooting on Hadley Court, according to the GPD.

Woodward, a lifelong Gilroy resident, called gang violence “a difficult problem.” He said gang problems in the city were nothing new.

“It’s an escalating cycle,” Woodward said. “One act leads to another. That leads to another act.”

He said current gang violence in Gilroy was bad, but it’s been much worse in the past. He recalled the 1970s and 1990s as more worrisome times.

“There’s no short-term answer for it,” Woodward said. “This has been a problem in our community for decades. We just have to do our best to keep a lid on it.”

Leroe-Muñoz also said the community couldn’t ignore gang-related issues, and seeking a regional coordinator was a good next step.

“If there is money out there for that, then I think it’s something we should pursue,” Leroe-Muñoz said. “To think there isn’t a gang problem in Gilroy or Morgan Hill is being willfully blind to the problem.”

He added, “It is vital that we really make fighting gang activity a priority.”

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