San Jose to accept anti-gang funding

June 24, 2011 8:20:13 PM PDT
The federal government is lending support to San Jose so the city can tackle a growing gang problem.

The city is facing its highest murder rate in 20 years and most of those are gang related.

For the first time ever, San Jose's police department is teaming up with the Department of Homeland Security to tackle gang violence which is on the rise. Two agenda from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will help police attack and dismantle criminal street gangs.

"It's, quite frankly, a myriad of strategies," said Shane Folden with ICE Homeland Security Investigations, "and really the ultimate goal is to protect the community, protect the public and try to remove those folks from the community that are there who exploit people and commit crimes."

Police say there are about 100 known gangs operating in the city with a total of around 6,500 members. Families in the Washington area neighborhood near downtown say they are so afraid of the crime, they can't enjoy the park settings near their homes.

The Barba family, who lives in the Washington neighborhood, says its forced to deal with gang activity on a daily basis.

"My kids have seen drug deals around it here," said resident Cory Barba. "We've seen gang fights, we've come home and seen people laying in front of our driveway. It's awful."

One woman spoke with ABC7, but was too afraid to give her name.

"We can't sit in those tables in there," said the frightened San Jose resident. "We can't sit there because we are afraid to get shot or killed."

The city has seen fourteen gang-related murders this year. There were six in all of last year, so the number has already more than doubled in half the time. The increase in violence comes as the police department faces 100 layoffs because of budget cuts.

The police chief wants to assure minority communities that thee two ICE agents working with the department are not interested in people's immigration status.

"Folks that are working, living in San Jose, don't have to worry about ice agents coming in and working on administrative issues," said San Jose Police Department Chief Chris Moore. "They are working on criminal investigations."

However, some critics of the partnership say the move erodes trust that the police were just beginning to rebuild in many minority communities.

"These people have already articulated, very clearly, their deep abiding about the police cooperation with federal agents when it comes to immigration," said Father John Pedigo with the Justice for Immigrants campaign. "To bring federal agents into that situation, to me, that's throwing kerosene into the fire."

The Barba family doesn't know if the ICE agents will help, but they say something has to be done to stop the escalating violence.

"These terrorists -- they're holding the neighborhood hostage," Ignacio Barba, Sr. said of the gang members.

The two ICE agents will begin their work on Monday.

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