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Lodi gang activity has decreased, police say

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Lodi’s gang activity has seen dramatic drops over the last two years after seeing an all-time high in 2011, Police Chief Mark Helms said Thursday at the annual State of the City address at Hutchins Street Square.

That’s thanks to a concerted effort by the Lodi Police Department and the city to strategically tackle the gang problem.

We started analyzing our gang crime to analyze where it was happening, and more importantly who was responsible — who were the worst offenders. Those were the people we concentrated on.”

In 2011, Lodi saw 253 gang-related incidents. That dropped by 50 percent to 126 in 2012, and is expected to drop another 30 percent this year, according to Helms. The city has seen 70 gang-related incidents since January.

Helms said the department traditionally used a “sledgehammer” approach to dealing with gangs by sending massive numbers of officers out to gang-plagued areas to quell violence. By 2011, he said, that approach was proving futile.

“Now we’re using a scalpel,” Helms said. “We started analyzing our gang crime to analyze where it was happening, and more importantly who was responsible — who were the worst offenders. Those were the people we concentrated on.”

Helms said the city used new approaches and a $550,000 grant from the state to target gang activity.

The police department began forming community partnerships that helped them take a well-rounded approach to battling gangs by not just focusing on locking up offenders, but also by offering young people opportunities and alternatives to gangs, Helms said.

The department’s efforts have been backed up two city youth outreach workers — Ruben Guardiola and Ernest Bass — who work with students in Lodi’s schools to keep them from joining gangs.

“They are getting tremendous results as far as calming the mood in the high schools and getting kids the services that they need,” Helms said.

Helms said the police department and the city are working on a new gang prevention program, Care Lodi, based on a Fresno model that uses faith-based organizations to work in gang-plagued areas of the city.

“The community has come together and is dealing with this gang problem,” Helms said.

Contact reporter Todd Allen Wilson at toddw@lodinews.com.

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