Panelists talked about the importance of addressing a person’s home life and family issues when talking about youth violence prevention at a South Coast Youth Safety Partnership event Thursday.
The Partnership was created in 2008 as part of the city of Santa Barbara’s response to address youth gang violence after 15-year-old Luis Angel Linares was killed in a stabbing during a gang fight in downtown Santa Barbara. A 14-year-old was charged and convicted of the murder.
“The name Angel — it brings a lot of pain, and when I say a lot of pain, it goes back to the trauma,” said Cesar Arroyo, program manager of CommUnify. “Ever since, it’s one of those things that the trauma is always here, so I only wonder how our youth continue to face these traumas.”
Probation Manager Erin Cross said the county has 28 juveniles on supervised probation with gang terms and conditions, 12 youths in juvenile hall — with more pending — and two currently sentenced in Santa Barbara.
“As a probation officer, we have to figure out the accountability because they broke the law, they’ve harmed the community or someone else, they’re a threat to the community and we need to keep the community safe,” Cross said. “We also need to figure out a way to heal the kid and the family, or nothing’s going to change.”
She said that a big part of preventing youth violence is finding a way to address underlying issues that are leading to the violence or youth joining gangs.
“I have not opened a file for a youth on supervised probation in years that does not have a history with child welfare services of some sort, some kind of referral for some kind of abuse,” Cross said. “We have not put a kid on supervised probation on that type of case load in years that doesn’t have the absent parent, drug abuse, domestic violence — exactly what you would think in their history.
“A lot of our youth were currently open to social services, to child welfare, and they became a probation kid because the behavior changed. The kid didn’t change, the circumstances didn’t change.”
Sgt. Mike Brown with the Santa Barbara Police Department said gang activity in Santa Barbara has declined in the past years — with about 100 incidents per year three or four years ago, and now the city is at 30 to 35 incidents — but there are still gang issues.
“I don’t think there’s a city in the country that doesn’t have some type of gang issue,” Brown said. “Again, it all goes back to why these kids are joining gangs.”
Brown and other panelists said part of the problem is the high cost of living, meaning parents are likely working multiple jobs to afford a home, and kids are out unsupervised during the day.
Most of the panelists said that, along with starting at the family level to address underlying issues, another way to prevent gang violence would be finding ways to keep youth busy — with jobs, sports, afterschool and summer programs, and more.
Sheriff’s Deputy Ehren Rauch said programs in Goleta high schools have been successful, and Brown said the SBPD Santa Barbara Police Activities League aims to build mentoring relationships with local youth.
Meanwhile, Susan Salcido, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools, spoke about efforts she and the County Education Office are doing to support student safety in emergencies with the Santa Barbara County Safe Schools Coalition.
For example, Salcido said the County Education Office has worked to create basic, common language for all schools and law enforcement to use in emergencies or lockdown situations.
She also spoke about the new school safety liaison, who will bring in trainers for school drills and school safety plans; provide communication between law enforcement, schools, and parents; and be an overall resource for schools.
Panel moderators ended the discussion by emphasizing the importance of the whole community being part of the resolution and that the response has to be collective, rather than a single entity working to solve the youth violence issues.
There have been several deaths and injuries allegedly related to gang fights and attacks in Santa Barbara in recent years.
A tourist was shot and killed near Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara last year in an allegedly gang-related incident. Police say Camarillo man Robert Dion “Rob” Gutierrez was an innocent bystander caught in a crossfire between local and Ventura-area gang members. A 23-year-old Santa Barbara man faces murder charges in that case.
Four people were shot and two Santa Barbara teenagers were killed in a drive-by shooting by alleged Carpinteria gang members in 2021. The criminal case is ongoing against the alleged shooters in the murders of Angel Castillo, 17, and Omar Montiel-Hernandez, 18.
Several Westside Santa Barbara gang members have been recently sentenced to prison for stabbing a man to death on his way home from work in 2019, because he was an alleged Eastside gang member.
The youth violence and prevention event panelists included Susan Salcido, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools; Sheriff’s Deputy Bryan Dickey, who is currently the community resource deputy for Carpinteria; Sgt. Mike Brown with the Santa Barbara Police Department; Sheriff’s Deputy Ehren Rauch, community resource deputy for Goleta; and Probation Manager Erin Cross with Santa Barbara County.
The panel was moderated by James Kyriaco, Goleta City Councilmember and policy team chair for the South Coast Youth Safety Partnership; and Steven DeLira, program manager for CommUnify and the South Coast Youth Safety Partnership.
Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli contributed reporting to this story.