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County wins $350,000 grant for gang-busting campaign

December 10, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — In an effort to rid this city of gang violence, police, the county Probation Department and other local agencies have created a task force to break up gangs at the community level.

Officials are hopeful this city will be a template for the task force that will allow it to expand throughout the Valley.

The task force, which has been on the streets since September, is funded through a grant from the state Department of Justice.

Known as the Calexico Area-Gang Violence Suppression Program, the task force will receive $347,000 annually from the state Department of Justice for three years.


Mike Kelley, county chief probation officer, said the task force is made up of a county probation officer and a Calexico police officer. The probation officer is Frank Martinez and the police officer is Fernando Lara.

They are supported by the county District Attorney's Office, the county Office of Education's student well-being and family resources department, Calexico Neighborhood House and the Calexico Unified School District.

The task force is involved in gang identification; gang awareness training for school staffs, youths and parents; community input and education campaigns; intensive supervision of probationers with gang-related offenses; curfew enforcement; and prosecution of those with violent gang-related offenses.

Kelley said the officers have been going to area schools, going door-to-door talking to parents and youths on the streets about gang violence.

He said the goal is to prevent youths from becoming involved with gangs by educating people about the signs that indicate a young person is moving in that direction.

He added there is a law enforcement aspect to the program, but the task force is meant to serve as a resource, helping people who do not know what help is available.

"The incidental beneficiary goal of the probation officer and the cop dealing with gangs is to give kids more positive avenues," Kelley said. "It's just a spin-off of reducing gang violence."

Kelley added, "The bottom line is our job is to make the world a better place to live and it starts everywhere."

The Calexico area was chosen, Kelley said, because of its proximity to the border, its level of gang activity and its enterprise community designation, which helps the area in obtaining state grants.

Still, Kelley said the goal is to expand the program to other communities. First, he said, officials have to prove the task force makes a difference.

Kelley added it is important for communities to know that while Calexico has been targeted with a special detail, the county Probation Department and local law enforcement are continuing efforts throughout the Valley.

He said probation officers continue to be assigned to schools to work with police and school authorities on keeping kids out of gangs and in school.

Kelley credited Calexico police Cmdr. Mario Sanchez, the city's interim police chief, for his support of the program.

Sanchez said, "This is a program that will benefit everyone in the community."

Sanchez said the task force will provide intelligence to patrol officers, which likely will lead to more prosecution of those involved in gang activity.

However, like Kelley, Sanchez said a key goal is to keep youths out of gangs and involved in more positive activities.

>>Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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