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Gangs Task Force May Be Tried in Santa Maria After Southern Santa Barbara County Reports Success

Efforts to reduce youth gang activity on the South Coast have been so successful the past five years that Santa Barbara County officials are talking about starting a similar task force for North County.

The South Coast Task Force on Youth Safety presented the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors with a list of accomplishments since its founding in 2009, asking officials Tuesday for feedback and guidance on how the multi-agency partnership should plan for the next five years.

So far, there’s been a 75-percent decrease in the number of South Coast youth who have gang terms and conditions — meaning they’ve been connected in some way to gangs, usually by the courts of probation.

The drop was so dramatic the task force even recently changed its name, switching out the word “gangs” with “safety.” 

Task force coordinator Saul Serrano said the group recently launched a Mission 2020 report to make sure the task force founded after an uptick in youth homicides was still needed — people said it was — and to re-focus efforts on prevention, intervention and suppression.

The county helps fund the effort along with the cities of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria and Goleta. The Community Action Commission provides administrative support to run monthly meetings and advocacy efforts.

Supervisors just re-upped their involvement last year. The county contributes $50,303 annually for the effort, which has a total budget of nearly $190,000 including in-kind CAC support.

The number of youth with gang conditions fell from 245 in 2009 to 118 in 2014. That number decreased to 62 in 2015, Serrano said.

He said the task force helped secure $3.3 million in funding from the California Gang Reduction Intervention and Prevention Funds from 2009-2015, which resulted in serving 449 youth in intervention programs and 3,186 more in school prevention. Some 396 parents were also contacted.

“We don’t take credit for that but (we’re) definitely part of community work,” Serrano said, noting 18 participating agencies. “The needs are still there.”

The task force has updated its mission statement and guiding principles as part of its five-year strategic plan, emphasizing mental health services, jobs skills connections and more.

Even though Serrano cautioned that three more youth were added this year to the task force’s list, supervisors congratulated those involved.

“Whatever has happened has really worked,” said First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, who regularly co-chairs the task force along with Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf.

“I think the task force can take a little bit of credit. That’s a big deal.”

Serrano said Santa Barbara and Carpinteria high schools impacted efforts by adopting restorative justice programs that significantly lower the number of suspensions.

“Do we know if all these guys from South County have moved to North County?” Fifth District Supervisor Steven Lavagnino said as a way to bring up the recent increase in youth violence in his Santa Maria district.

Lavagnino said he wanted to model the South Coast task force in North County and his colleagues said they would support that in the future.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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