Gang-related crimes, particularly homicides, are up in Lodi in the past two years, but the police department is looking to combat the increase with a multi-tiered approach despite severely limited financial resources.
At a meeting Monday morning with the entire Lodi City Council, Lodi Police Department Chief Mark Helms presented a PowerPoint outline targeting the rise of gang violence and crimes in Lodi since 2010. And though the statistics are alarming, Helms assured council and community members that a plan is being put in place to attack the increase on multiple levels to not only ensure the safety of the community but to try and prevent further gang-related crimes in the future.
Helms chose 2010 as a starting point because the department began tracking gang activity via a computer software program halfway through 2009. The first complete set of data was compiled in 2010, giving the department a more complete picture of what and where they need to most address the rising number of gang-related crimes.
According to data compiled by the department, the Eastside is the most prominent area for gang-related crimes, which includes gang-related homicides.
In 2010, 202 gang incidents were reported to police, but in just one year, the number of gang incidents reported jumped 25 percent to 253 incidents in 2011.
Helms said while that jump was significant, what was more alarming to him was that 11 percent of all gang crimes occurred on middle or high school campuses.
“It is going to take the entire community to do something (about gang prevention),” he said. “We tend to lose most kids (to gangs) between sixth and eighth grades.”
Helms also targeted the number of gang-related assaults with firearms. In 2010, the department noted 12 reported incidents. In 2011, it bumped to 21 reported incidents — a 75 percent jump in one year.
And even more alarming, according to Helms, was the number of gang-related homicides, all of which involved a firearm. In 2010, no gang-related homicides were reported. In 2011, there were two — one in August and one in November. Both those cases are currently under investigation.
But in just the first three months of 2012, two gang-related homcides have already occurred. In both cases, two juveniles have been arrested in connection and face murder charges.
Though arrests have been made, Helms alluded to the fact that the criminals were not easy to find.
“People are scared to death ... afraid to come out of their homes to identify (a gang member),” Mayor JoAnne Mounce said of the department’s struggle to pinpoint possible gang members who have been involved in a crime. “ ... The Eastside went to hell in a hand basket in the (late 80s or early 90s). We ignored it then and we are paying for it now.”
Solving the issues that primarily plague the Eastside of Lodi will be a challenge, Helms said, but steps are already in place to try and tackle the crime sprees head-on.