San Jose police unveil plan to crack down on gangs

SAN JOSE, Calif.

Residents in Edenvale should see a lot more police activity starting Friday night, although 20 teams of two officers per car is only a start. The problem has become so serious that police can no longer use having 300 fewer officers than a year ago as an excuse. "We've come to the realization that the way that we were doing things before could be done a little bit better," said Sgt. Jason Dwyer.

It is a big admission that something has to be done about gang violence. Eight out of the 25 homicides this year have been tied to gang activity.

Stepped-up prevention and intervention will come in multiple steps. Forty more officers will be on patrol immediately, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. They will be reassigned from the MERGE or SWAT operation, or from other units. Another 24 officers will join them in July.

Officers will focus their efforts on hot spots -- neighborhoods where gangs operate or where homicides have occurred. Residents say they'll welcome more police. "I think it's awesome. We need the protection around here. Good they're doing their job over here," resident Scott Wellwood said, adding that gang activity "has been pretty high."

Some officers have personal reasons for seeing the gang crackdown. "I've had a family member die as a result of gang violence, so I know personally how it feels to get a notification from law enforcement regarding the death of a loved one," Officer Albert Morales told ABC7 News.

Pastor Sonny Lara works with at-risk youth at the Firehouse Community Development. He grew up in San Jose and spent 19 years in prison for drug sales and trafficking. He says gang violence is rooted in the lack of jobs. "Adults have all their jobs at McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell. What used to belong to the young people is no longer there. Their parents don't have money to get them in sports. If you have another brother or sister, you're screwed dude," he said.

While police try to suppress gang activity, Lara will keep trying to get young people to realize there's a better path, but it can be hard in San Jose. "They live in neighborhoods where the graffiti's up all day long. They don't have cars. Mom says, 'Go to the store.' They have to walk. They get attacked, so they figure if I can't beat them, I just join them," he said.

To saturate the hot spots, some police officers will now have to work on Saturdays. Others will see their shifts change so they work later into the night. Any additional costs to patrol will be borne by the department's overtime budget.

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