As part of a comprehensive plan to reduce gang violence in Lodi, the city will be hiring two part-time youth outreach workers who will work with teens to show them there are other life paths besides gangs.
This is the first time the city will be venturing into a program modeled after Stockton's Peacekeepers program. The employees will be former gang members who have straightened out their lives, Neighborhood Services Manager Joseph Wood said.
"Their responsibility is to work directly with the youths who are gang-involved or potentially gang-involved and those at a high risk of violence," Wood said. "It's a laser focus on quashing the opportunities and the situations that lead to violence and taking the gun out of someone's hand and leading them to do something else."
The two employees are part of the city's focus on a recently growing problem. In March, the city received a $250,000 two-year California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention grant from the state to reduce gang violence in Lodi by 25 percent.
The Lodi City Council approved the spending plan Wednesday night, which requires the city to match the funds.
Most of the grant, $150,000, will be spent on police department overtime for special enforcement activities, Police Chief Mark Helms said. Officers will have more of a presence in target areas to develop relationships and to make contact with gang members, he said.
They will also conduct surveillance and participate in foot and bicycle patrols.
The city will use $50,000 in grant money to hire a part-time code enforcement officer, who will deal with properties occupied by gang members or their family.
Another $50,000 will go to local nonprofits that provide services like after-school tutoring, mentoring and parenting assistance.
The city also has to put in its own money. The city will spend $85,000 to hire the two part-time youth outreach workers. The rest of the money will come in in-kind services, like the continuing the Gang Resistance Education And Training programs for sixth-graders, offering other gang education presentations, continuing to employ a police department crime analyst and providing clerical support to the gang efforts.
Councilman Larry Hansen said it is important for the community to realize the city has dedicated half a million dollars over the next two years to fight the gang problem.
"I'm going to be watching it with great interest and how we reach these goals. The question is always asked, 'What are you doing?' Well, here it is," Hansen said.
Every year, there is $8 million statewide in grant funds to fight gangs, and the most a community can receive is $250,000, Helms said. The money comes from restitution fees paid through the court.
The goals for the program are to reduce gang violence by 25 percent, remove 20 guns from gang members or violent offenders, and identify and dismantle the leadership of at least one Norteño or Sureño gang.
"I know we are going to get some very good results with this," Helms said. "I don't think it will be the answer to all of our problems, but it's a step."
Wood will manage the program because one of the key aspects is that the gang members can trust the outreach workers. If they think the program is associated with the police, that will discourage many gang members from participating.
"We have to stress that they are not snitches for the police department. It provides that separation," Wood said. "What's important in establishing this trust with the youths and the community is the ability to maintain some confidentiality."
The program offers a "compassionate ear" for gang members to talk to someone who can relate to their situation, Wood said. It will be geared toward students in the seventh and eighth grades, as well as some high school students.
"We are looking at not only stopping the young kids from getting into a gang, but also getting kids in a gang to put the gun down," Wood said.
The outreach workers will work through the school district and out in the community making connections with teens and their families, Wood said.
As they gain trust, the youth outreach workers can then recommend services like tutoring, extra activities like handball, anger management courses or counseling to help gang members reach their goals.
"We want to open a door for them, and give them whatever information they need to make the right decision to go through that door," Wood said.
Because they are looking for past gang members, Wood said they are going to get assistance from Peacemakers and Point Break, another gang outreach program in Stockton. Point Break currently has a former gang member at Lodi High School who has started handball games at lunch to unite Norteños and Sureños.
"You are looking for folks who have been out there and know what these kids have been through and have made a decision to get out of that life," Wood said.