To match what officials say is a recent increase in gang-related crimes, the Yolo County Sheriff Department took leadership of the Yolo County Gang Task Force.
Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig, who launched the original program in 2006, asked Sheriff Ed Prieto to assume responsibility.
There will be no financial impact on the district attorney’s or the sheriff’s offices. The task force is not assigning any additional officers, but re-allocating them to specific enforcement areas instead of using patrol. This will be more effective than small units within the cities, Reisig said.
“They are better suited for the frontline,” Reisig said. “The only impact it will have on the task force is more resources being dedicated to the issue.“
Most other gang task forces in the state are traditionally under the sheriff department. Due to greater staffing and resources, the sheriff believes the program will be effective under his watch.
Prieto is hoping to identify major players in gangs and will focus on educating the youth, prevention and enforcement action against “gangbangers.“
The task force will be made up of seven individuals. The sheriff department will have a sergeant and two detectives, the district attorney’s office will have two investigators, a prosecutor and a crime analyst, CHP will have an investigator and Yolo County Probation Department will have a probation officer.
Their mission: “to provide targeted intelligence gathering, enforcement, investigation and vertical prosecution in the area of criminal street gangs,” according to a press release.
The sheriff’s office will be working hand-in-hand with the FBI and other agencies in Yolo County as well as in Sacramento. The task force will extend coverage to rural areas, where gangs operate more easily due to less communication and contact with the public.
In just over a month, there have already been 30 arrests.
“Once you debrief a gang member the biggest enemy for them is law enforcement,” Prieto said. “We want to make sure they know we have a presence.”
The men charged with the two killings in the past three years of Yolo County officers Brendt Volarvich and Marco Topete were tied to gangs, Reisig said.
Gangs have been growing for the last 20 years, not only in Yolo County but also nationwide, Reisig said. Over the last several years, however, they have become more violent – more shootings, stabbings, robberies and drug deals, he said.
The district attorney said there was a 30 percent increase in gang case filings in 2008 compared to previous years. Over 1,000 gang members and over a dozen gangs have been identified in the area.
“With economic times being as tough as they are, there is a lot of money to be made in illegal narcotic transactions,” Reisig said. “A lot of people who used to have jobs in the trades are resorting to crime, and the gangs are bringing those people in.“
The county has longstanding connections to gangs, as some of the leaders are from Woodland. In Yolo County, Interstates 80 and 5, which run through the West and East Coasts and intersect at Yolo County, are two of the busiest routes for drug trafficking.
“We have been flooded with gang members and drugs they bring,” Reisig said. “Narcotics are being moved across the border day and night.“
One of the reasons Yolo has a higher crime rate per capita than Sacramento County is because of the area’s big market for narcotics. Part of that is because of the university, he said.
At UC Davis, there is a large market for marijuana and ecstasy. Gangs and organized crime interests are shipping both from Mexico and Canada.
“When folks in Davis are using, indirectly they are supporting organized crime, and it all comes back to increasing gang violence in Yolo County. [The gangs] are fighting over turf, basically, to sell drugs,” Reisig said.
The UC Davis Police Department does not have an individual in the task force but is committed to cooperating.
The Davis Police Department dedicated an individual to the task force full-time since 2005 but pulled out this year. Due to limited resources and after community outreach, the DPD decided to put their efforts into a high school resource officer program, said Assistant Chief Steve Pierce.
Many gang members are in the high school age bracket, he said. The DPD will still participate in the task force and share information.
“Currently, approximately 90 percent of youth referred to the Yolo County Probation Department admit being a gang member or associating with anti-social peers who typically include gang members, affiliates and associates,” Chief Probation Officer Don L. Meyer said in a press release.
POOJA KUMAR can be reached at email@example.com.