– In the face of increased gang violence this year, Hollister
Police Chief Jeff Miller believes the public can help officers curb
it in a big way.
Hollister – In the face of increased gang violence this year, Hollister Police Chief Jeff Miller believes the public can help officers curb it in a big way.

In 2007, there have been two attempted murders and five drive-by shootings, all gang-related. Two weeks ago, there was a gang-related murder of a Salinas teenager.

With only 29 sworn officers and two detectives, Miller said it is difficult to keep up the department’s suppression efforts. There should be up to 55 sworn officers for a city of Hollister’s size, said Miller, whose comments came while speaking to the Free Lance Editorial Board on Thursday.

Miller noted how there are four officers on patrol in Hollister on any given over-night shift.

But even if the department had appropriate staffing levels, other efforts are needed, the chief said.

“You can’t arrest yourself out of a gang problem,” Miller said.

The chief said a communitywide effort on several levels is necessary to combat gangs.

“I’m firmly ensconced in the camp that says if you’re going to deal effectively with a gang problem, you have to approach it from three sides,” Miller said.

Those three sides include prevention, intervention and suppression, he noted.

Prevention keeps children from joining gangs, intervention works to convince gang members to leave, and suppression is done at a law enforcement level, Miller said.

But because of budget cuts in 2004 and 2006, the department has eliminated its gang prevention and intervention programs.

A big blow came when the department lost its neighborhood watch program, he said.

“I’m really sad to have lost neighborhood watch,” Miller said. “I think one of the most effective crime prevention, crime intervention, crime suppression modes is a neighborhood watch program.”

Alert neighbors can make a substantial difference in preventing crime, Miller said.

“I don’t care if you’re Los Angeles, New York, San Jose, anywhere,” Miller told the board. “There just aren’t enough police officers to watch every corner, every street and provide that level of absolute prevention. It has to be neighbors watching out for each other and there’s no substitute for people watching and seeing what’s going on in their street and calling it in.”

Another way to make a difference is getting involved in and supporting youth groups, Miller said.

One group Miller mentioned is the League of United Latino American Citizens’ Youth, headed by Vince Luna.

“Frankly, they’re one of the antidotes to gangs,” Miller said.

LULAC Youth stresses character development and school and community participation, the chief said.

The group also has sponsored the San Benito County’s Gang Task Force community forums.

In October, the task force will hold a forum that focuses on what parents can do to prevent their children from joining gangs.

“We’re running into a lot of parents who can’t control their kids,” Miller said. “We’re trying to do something to empower them as well.”

The gang task force has a variety of citizens, from law enforcement officers and school officials to business and church leaders.

Lazarus Rios, a pastor with Hollister’s branch of Victory Outreach, sits on the task force and works with at-risk children daily.

“These youngsters need to get worked with on a personal level,” Rios said.

Rios said there is a desperate need for intervention and prevention services in San Benito County. For many youths, joining a gang fills a need to belong and to be recognized, the pastor said.

“A lot of times these gangs can be their family,” Rios said.

Like Miller, Rios said intervention, prevention and suppression are all vital to combating gangs.

But suppression cannot work alone. It makes people bitter, the pastor said.

“It’s got to happen on all three levels on a consistent basis,” Rios said.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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