Summit Focuses on Crime Prevention

In the wake of a deadly gang-related shooting near Story Road and East Capitol Expressway, San Jose’s Crime and Gang Prevention Summit brought the community together on Saturday, January 22, with a message of unity.

“We have a plan and with the plan we’ll stop the retaliation and take back our streets,” Mayor Chuck Reed told the 300 participants gathered at Seven Trees Community Center for the third annual event.

The “plan” is San Jose’s response to gang violence that keeps the community informed, allows residents to share concerns and ideas and strives to re-establish a sense of community safety. The process involves not only the San Jose Police Department, but also other city departments, including Strong Neighborhoods, City Council offices, schools and community organizations.

The plan emerged from the 20-year-old Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force, which has become a prototype for other cities facing violent crime in their communities, noted Jack Calhoun, the event’s keynote speaker and director of the 13-California City Gang Prevention Network for the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families.

“This program must stay,” he said, referring to pending budget cuts as San Jose faces a projected deficit of at least $90 million. “You have made this city a place where citizens and business can thrive.”

Responding to San Jose’s spike in homicides in January – seven compared to 20 in all of — Acting Police Chief Chris Moore said his department and the community should continue to employ methods of “prevention, intervention and suppression.”

“We’ve seen this pattern before,” he said of the fatal shootings, including two last week within a mile of each other on Story Road.

Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen, whose District 7 hosted the summit, echoed the sentiments of other speakers with a call to the community to work with police to curb gang violence. “We cannot arrest our way out of gang problems,” she said.

Workshops at this year’s summit included Gang Awareness 101, presented by California Youth Outreach; Faith-Based Approach by Calhoun and local faith leaders; and Cleaner, Safer and Engaged Communities by Strong Neighborhoods Team Manager Paul Pereira.

Pereira, who earlier in the summit was given an award for his work in neighborhoods struggling to stay safe, explained how Strong Neighborhoods responds to neighborhood concerns during a crisis to help the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force after an incident of gang violence.

Photo by Kip Harkness

“We connect the dots,” he said, which includes asking residents, “What do you hear from the streets?”

Neighborhoods don’t have to wait until a crisis happens to take action, he told session participants. He encouraged them to organize group walks along streets to see what needs to be done.

Invoking the “broken window theory,” he showed photos of neighborhoods plagued by trash, graffiti and vandalism. The theory proposes that a broken window that goes unrepaired sends a message that it’s OK to create more blight and invites trouble.

“It doesn’t mean that broken window (neighborhoods) are full of crime, but what it means is that broken windows attract crime,” Pereira said.

Pointing to the McKinley/Bonita Neighborhood, Pereira showed with photos and statistics how residents worked hard to improve the area, including McKinley Elementary School where children now feel safe to go to school. In 1992, there were 215 incidents of gang and violent crime; , only nine incidents had been reported.

Besides neighborhood walks, Pereira suggested that residents:

• Work with schools to detect trends and problems.
• Host a coffee or potluck when new officers are assigned to areas in March and September.
• Apply for a Community Action and Pride grants to fund neighborhood projects or activities.

Alofa Talava of the Sierra Neighborhood Association in East San Jose told how she helped to get to know her neighbors and organized them to take action.

“Complaining is one thing and doing something is another,” she said. “All of us working together – we can do so much. I think of my neighborhood as my one big family.”

Strong Neighborhoods Contacts:

• Paul Pereira, (408) 535-8506
• Jose Villarreal, (408) 535-8508 (Spanish speaker)
• Myvan Khuu-Seeman, (408) 795-1885 (Vietnamese speaker)