Salinas Comprehensive Strategy for Community-wide Violence Reduction
The City of Salinas has been dealing with increasing gang violence for over 50 years. It has reached a critical level and impacts 100% of the Salinas community, be it by living near or with gang members or as businesses that are forced to deal with negative perceptions associated with the city. Further, violence is a public health issue that not only affects the individual, but the community as a whole. Violence is a major contributor to the deterioration of families and communities, and what is sometimes ignored is that it contributes to increases in health care costs, and decreases in academic achievement, and it inhibits economic development in stressed communities.
According to local law enforcement, Monterey County has an estimated 5,000 certified and affiliated gang members, with approximately 3,000 of these living in the City of Salinas. There are approximately 71 gangs countywide, with 16 youth gangs and two prison gangs in Salinas. Monterey County has two California State Prisons, the Salinas Valley State Prison and the Correctional Training Facility. Both are approximately 30 miles south of Salinas, which contributes significantly to local gang problems.
Core stakeholders have been working for the last two years through the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP) to assemble in a collaborative those who are able and willing to address this community-wide issue and to develop a comprehensive strategy for a community-wide reduction in violence. CASP is a group of Salinas and Monterey County government, education, and non-profit leaders who have teamed up to reduce gang violence and improve safety. The commitment and participation of CASP has been the leading factor in keeping Salinas focused on the priority of developing a strategic work plan aimed at reducing gang and youth violence and building a “City of Peace.”
It is well understood that reducing gang violence is not a problem that can be resolved by stand-alone traditional law enforcement methods. Current research, supported by the experience of communities that have successfully reduced violence, shows that a violence reduction program must simultaneously bring together efforts in prevention, intervention, enforcement and re-entry. The key to making those efforts effective is the strategy that coordinates them.
The Salinas Comprehensive Strategy for Community-wide Violence Reduction presents the details of our strategies to reduce and prevent gang and youth violence and is based on four key principles:
- There is a single operational structure that manages action and progress.
- Action is research and data-driven.
- The youth are at the center.
- There is deep and meaningful engagement with the community.
1. Single operational structure.
There are several organizations addressing violence in the City of Salinas and Monterey County from various directions, including law enforcement, education, job training, family counseling, substance abuse treatment, recreational activities, mentoring, and more. However, there is no one single entity that is responsible for, or fully equipped for, coordinating those efforts and whose central mission is to mobilize a multidisciplinary leadership team to assess, plan, and implement effective strategies, and share resources to build, support, and sustain a peaceful community. To reach this new level of coordination, a study group is exploring governance and management models that will address this issue. The goal of this study group is to create and implement an operational structure at both the technical and policy levels, that tracks plan progress and that serves as the integrator of the work in a coordinated fashion.
2. Data-driven action.
There are not sufficient resources to deliver services in equal measure to all people who might benefit from them. But, by using data to target the resources we do have, we can allocate them in a manner that will produce the greatest benefit. The success of Operation Ceasefire is in part a testimony to the power of using data this way. Currently, the CASP member organizations maintain largely independent data systems. We can merge and share access to the relevant data (while preserving privacy and security) and use it to prioritize and tailor our actions. The Operation Ceasefire strategy is also an example of the success of using evidence-based programs, tailored for the specific needs of Salinas.
3. Youth at the center.
The core client in addressing youth violence is the youth or young adult who is at risk of being a perpetrator or a victim of violence. The focus would also have to necessarily include services and resources for his/her family. In Salinas, this target population is relatively small, numbering in the low thousands. With modern data tools it is possible to build a profile of each client, prioritize based on risk, and configure wraparound, comprehensive services to match that youth’s needs rather than trying to draw clients in to receive their particular subset of services. For example, one youth may need family counseling and mentoring, while another needs substance abuse treatment. Data makes it possible to configure services appropriately, increasing the likelihood of success while also reducing overlap, waste, or missed opportunities.
4. Deep and meaningful community engagement.
Research and our own local experience show that solutions imposed from outside a community have little chance of lasting success. Community members must feel they own the solution and play an active role in it, or else temporary successes, such as have been experienced in the past, and are likely to fade as soon as an extraordinary level of outside intervention is relaxed. We are designing this strategy, and will act on it, with community members as partners, not as passive recipients of services.
This measurable and achievable Comprehensive Plan for 2013-2018 represents the synthesis of data, community input, and the concerns of committed stakeholders. The document outlines both short- and long-term goals, with timelines, and commitments from key persons and agencies at the community, city, and county levels. It seeks to reflect the issues that have been identified by a broad cross-section of Salinas: socio-economic conditions, education and schools, law enforcement, environmental design and urban planning, engaging and supervising youth and the impact of drugs and alcohol. Additionally, it delineates the elements of a strategic approach and outlines the next steps necessary to move forward.
The primary focus of the new Comprehensive Plan is to craft a bold vision supported by ambitious goals that positively impact not only community violence, but also improve overall quality of life as best identified by the impacted community. It is the City and CASP’s intent to create a shift in the community’s thinking and to show that there are viable alternatives to living in neighborhoods where gang violence is the norm. It incorporates stakeholder input to ensure that limited resources are effectively being deployed in the areas identified by the community as most in need. The Comprehensive Plan incorporates smart strategies that interrupt acute violence, but at the same time addresses the factors that can lead to violence and that may prevent violence before it starts.
The process undertaken to create this Comprehensive Plan has captured the voice of the larger community, those who are directly or indirectly receiving the services of CASP agencies. The development of this Plan will continue to engage the feedback from the community, their perceptions, and fears and ideas for solutions, while building on the expertise of our service providers and utilizing evidence-based model practices to meet the needs as identified by the community. It is understood that this must be a living, breathing document which must be flexible enough to change as the trends, patterns and identified issues change with time; continued meaningful community engagement is the only way to be successful in this endeavor. The Comprehensive Plan process of evaluating community feedback supports a greater understanding that a business as usual approach will not allow us to solve our problems.