Suppressing gang violence was the topic of conversation Tuesday night as community members got an in-depth account from the Lodi Police Department of what is being done to try and reduce gang-related crimes.
Lodi police chief Mark Helms presented a PowerPoint presentation to the Lodi Improvement Committee and about 20 community members outlining statistics and strategies the department is taking to tackle gang-related crimes and violence in the city.
Helms spoke extensively about the benefits of the California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention grant the city received in March.
The two-year grant gives the city $250,000 to both continue and start a variety of programs to reduce gang violence in Lodi by 25 percent.
Reducing violence would also mean attempting to remove 20 guns from the streets of Lodi, Helms' presentation noted. Guns have been a common factor in all four homicides the city has seen since 2011. All four homicides were also gang-related.
All homicides have involved juveniles or young adults as well, Helms said
Effective strategies to reduce gang violence include the implementation of an "Operation Peacekeepers" program, which is currently utilized in Stockton. The program would help gang members remove themselves from the gang lifestyle and get themselves onto a healthy track in life.
Other strategies include using part-time youth outreach workers the city plans to hire as part of the grant, according to Neighborhood Services Manager Joseph Wood.
The focus of the gang prevention steps being taken by the police department will be aimed at males ages 12 to 17, Helms added.
While the police department currently has the GREAT program in a number of sixth-grade classes throughout Lodi, the department has taken note that by the time students — particularly males — reach high school, something has changed.
"It is in those middle school years that we tend to lose them (to the gang lifestyle)," Helms said.
A majority of the funds from the grant are currently going back to the police department to be put toward enforcement, Helms reported.
Enforcement is expensive, Helms said, but even though the greatest need for grant funds is going to the department right now, it does not mean other sections of tackling gang violence are being short-sided.
"Is (the breakdown of the use of the grant) perfect? No. But it is a heck of a start," Helms said. "And it is more than we have been doing."
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