Youth crime drops in Gilroy

Youth crime in Gilroy has dropped almost 50 percent over the past three years, after an intensive school program funded by a $500,000 a year grant, according to a report by the South County Youth Task Force.

Arrests of youths aged 11-–19 in Gilroy have dropped significantly—13 percent last year and 46 percent between 2013 and 2016. Last year, 169 youths were arrested by police compared to 195 in 2015 and 371 in 2012.

“I’m extremely happy about this,” said Bernice Aguilera, the Gilroy police officer who administers the $500,000-a-year grant for Gilroy and Morgan Hill schools. “This is a passion we have. Back in 2012 Chief Turner felt that arresting our way out of crime was a never-ending goal, so we really had to promote prevention and intervention programs to support our youth and families. Chief Smithee feels the same way.

“We’re ecstatic, we’re happy. We really hope this downward trend continues.”

The task force focuses efforts on an identified population of youth exhibiting high-risk behaviors, such as committing intentional acts of violence and gang lifestyles.

Some of the programs she administers include late-night gyms, tattoo removal, social activities and summer field trips. Some of the biggest successes have been the result of a school program called restorative justice, which builds a circle of parents, students and counselors to mediate things such as school fights, bullying or students with serious problems.

When a student has been suspended and returns to school, they are greeted by a circle of people who can help ease their transition and work out the problems that led to them being suspended.

“A restorative circle will welcome them back,” said Aguilera. “We ask parents to come to the circle with educational probation, the principal and a youth officer. We support them in what’s going on. We stress having parents not be threatened and be a part of the solution.”

Another technique they use is mindfulness, a current psychological buzz word that teaches students ways to relieve stress, such as through breathing techniques. That’s something that helps them get through problems in school and at home.

Gilroy and Morgan Hill police officers have volunteered to mentor students through the program on their own time. “That’s trendsetting,” said Aguilera.

Another program is a 12-week intensive course in English and Spanish for parents of troubled children.

The results have been phenomenal, according to a two-year study started in 2014. Of 594 students treated in programs 70 percent showed new goals and better relationships, 75 percent showed increased decision making skills and 70 percent showed more positive relationships with adults.

There was also a decrease in gang violence and violent incidents in the schools. Those studied were 89 percent Latino.

Between 2012 and 2016, Gilroy schools showed an 88 percent decrease in expulsions and Morgan Hill showed a 79 percent decrease. Between 2012 and 2015, Gilroy schools reported no violent incidents with injuries, and out-of-school violence with injuries dropped 53 percent.

The only bad news in the release is that the grant, which was funded by the Board of State and Community Corrections’ California Gang Reduction Intervention and Prevention Program (CalGRIP) ends this year. Aguilera said she hopes to use the positive results to encourage another grant and have local agencies contribute more.

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