Novato assembles new gang unit

NOVATO, Calif.

Novato police want to see fewer crimes involving gang members. So with the help of county law enforcement and San Rafael police, the Novato Police Department created a special gang enforcement unit that went into service July 20th.

"We know it's effective by of the number of arrests we've made and contacts we've made," said Lt. Keith Heiden.

In its first two weeks, the gang unit resulted in six felony arrests and 17 misdemeanor arrests. Police say they include members of the white supremacists, Crips, Surenos, and Nortenos. All who live in Novato or have some connection here.

The arrests ranged from possession of illegal weapons and drugs to threatening an officer, and the gang unit continues its crackdown.

"It's going to be an ongoing problem. We continue to have gang members that live here in Novato, gang members that travel to Novato to commit crimes, so it's just a continuing problem. I don't know if we're going to end it, but it's definitely going to deter them," said Heiden.

Outside the Novato Youth Center last weekend, police arrested a juvenile in gang attire after a fight. A girl's quinceanera birthday party was being held in the rented gym space.

"Definitely we were upset by what happened last weekend," said Novato Youth Center executive director Cheryl Paddack.

Paddack says the 35-year-old youth center has never had an incident like that, but more and more of the young people served here need support to stay away from problems like gang involvement.

"I wouldn't say there's a gang problem and actually it doesn't feel like there are statistics to prove that in Novato, but I would say that youth today are having a lot of problems building resiliency, coping skills, understanding how to make good decisions," said Paddack.

The center is doing its part by offering programs to support good decisions, hopefully giving the police department less to do.

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