Faced with a mounting gang problem throughout San Mateo County, officials plan to spend more than $1 million fighting back with an entirely new investigative unit including increased law enforcement, a dedicated prosecutor and a more strategic effort to quell street violence.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will kick off its final budget hearings with a request to create the San Mateo County Gang Intelligence and Investigations Unit. While the proposal still needs majority approval before taking root, Supervisor Jerry Hill sees no stumbling blocks in allocating an extra $518,597 from the county budget's general fund. Combined with the roughly half-million dollars already in the Sheriff's Office budget, the county expects to spend a total of $1,010,976 for the start-up budget to battle gangs.
The multi-pronged approach, according to proponents, will soon truncate the growing gang violence that has sent arrest rates soaring and sparked countywide concern.
The unit will operate under the umbrella of the county's Narcotics Task Force. Initially, one sheriff's sergeant and two detectives and one deputy probation officer will be reassigned to the unit. A specialized prosecutor and crime analyst position will also be added. In phase two, the units will add two city detectives and the ongoing commitment of all countywide jurisdictions.
The first goals are the creation of a centralized clearinghouse of gang members and information as well as establishing a confidential tip hot line. The county also plans to kick up prosecution in local, state and federal courts.
The database comes at the urging of the civil grand jury which found the county lacking in a centralized, comprehensive source for statistics. At the jury's suggestion, the county has also scheduled a Youth Violence Prevention Workshop Oct. 3 to figure out other interdisciplinary ways to reduce crime.
The proposal for an entire unit goes beyond even what the grand jury recommended and expands current efforts such as the countywide task force and specialized operations.
The idea for the unit began about three weeks ago after a series of meetings with Hill, Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson, Sheriff Don Horsley, Chief Probation Officer Loren Buddress, District Attorney Jim Fox and County Manager John Maltbie. The group continually massaged the plan until the final proposal came together late Wednesday, Hill said.
While San Mateo County has never been completely devoid of gang crime, the violence tends to hover in hubs like East Palo Alto and the unincorporated areas of Menlo Park and Redwood City. As 2005 winds down, the number of incidents has escalated throughout the county while the age of the alleged participants appeared to plummet.