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Gangs: Prevention, intervention and enforcement
by Jessica Garcia and Cortney Maddock
Jul 25, 2009 | 3715 views | 3 3 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<a href=>Tribune/Nathan Orme</a> - Reno Ward 3 Councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza shows on a map areas of the city that are the targets of recent and future revitalization efforts.
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Reno City Councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza takes pride in the cleanup of the Oliver/Montello area in her ward. Bringing down the blight has helped rein in opportunities for gang activity in or near abandoned buildings there and improve neighborhood safety, she said.

Sferrazza said the city has learned the most effective way to revitalize the oldest, most gang-stricken parts of the city are to tackle one neighborhood at a time with the help of federal grants and initiatives.

Leaders in both Reno and Sparks are concerned about gang activity and the need for more money to kickstart revitalization efforts. Julia Ratti, the newest member of the Sparks City Council and a former executive director of the Gang Alternatives Partnerhip, represents a ward in Sparks similar to Sferrazza’s in Reno. Ratti is starting to wrap her brain around the big picture of what it takes as a city official to clean up a neighborhood and battle the social ills that lead to gang activity — something Sferrazza has been working on for nine years.

Cleaning up Montello

Sferrazza, who represents Ward 3, said much of the revitalization work to remove foreclosed homes or other dens of drug dealing and gang activity has been successful in the Oliver/Montello neighborhood.

“We had three commercial properties that we were able to acquire and tear down,” she said. “There was a lot of gang activity and we were able to acquire dilapidated buildings and tear them down. We set up a task force about two years ago and we were able to secure funding for new restrooms (at Pat Baker Park). The new park equipment came from the people who live there through a residential construction funding tax.”

Oliver and Montello received extra help from a $588,000 grant for which the Reno Housing Authority entered into an interlocal agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and with a little help from Sen. Harry Reid.

The grant allowed the city to purchase 13 additional foreclosed houses, fix them up and sell them as rent-to-own homes, Sferrazza said.

“It’s the broken-window theory,” Sferrazza said of the effort as a whole. “You have one broken window in an area that doesn’t get fixed, then other things start to happen. One person doesn’t maintain their house and that house has dying grass and weeds, then it has a trickle-down effect throughout the community. That’s why neighborhood involvement is so important.”

But the city isn’t stopping there. A new initiative will target Neil Road, an area that has been the scene of gang activity in recent months.

“We’ve had several gang shootings over there and it’s tragic because you have young people … (who were) tagging,” she said. “(The shooting) was retaliation; someone was tagging over this person’s gang writing. We’re trying to take proactive steps.”

Police cannot remove graffiti on private property without the owner’s consent. Now, in a step to combat graffiti and related incidents, the city is collecting advance waivers from frequent graffiti victims so that once vandalism is reported, authorities can remove it as quickly as possible and not have to wait for permission from owners at each occurrence.

Symptoms, not a cause

Working to curb escalating gang activity in the community, Ratti is one of the community leaders who was part of the Gang Alternatives Partnership during the 1990s. Now a Sparks councilwoman, Ratti said the purpose of GAP was to address a problem that only a few knew about when the non-profit formed in 1991.

“The only people who knew that it was going on was law enforcement and the people involved in the gangs,” Ratti explained.

Ratti said that as a community, GAP worked with other organizations to create activities for at-risk youth in hopes of preventing gang membership. She said, however, that funding for such programs is difficult to obtain and that many preventative programs are compromised because of funding issues.

Ratti said gangs are a symptom and not the cause of the problem, adding that society needs to address the core problems of poverty, lack of education and discrimination.

“There’s nowhere near enough,” Ratti said. “As a society we are not investing in our kids sufficiently. That ‘we’ is a big we. I fully believe that if we are going to address this problem, it needs to be a community-wide initiative.”

Social problems are not solved overnight, Ratti said. She added that a research paper published in 1999 by GAP and consultant Shelia Leslie, now a State Assembly member, suggested a three-pronged approach to gangs: prevention, intervention and enforcement.

“You can’t do it all with enforcement and the police will tell you that they can only deal with the crime aspect of it,” Ratti said. “There is a never-ending pipeline of kids who will get involved if you don’t deal with the prevention side, but I think the one that gets lost the most is intervention side.”

A rough road

Both city councils have faced challenges with restricted budgets. Public safety and enforcement are a top priority for Reno and Sparks, but when it comes to gangs, prevention is also key, Sferrazza said.

“During an economic downturn, you have to have free activities for people to participate in and it’s a balance,” she said. “Providing recreational opportunities in this community is important.”

The previous city council established the Neil Road Recreation Center and Nevada Hispanic Services provides a health clinic. One idea that has come from young people, Sferrazza said, is having a place to box, which makes sense to her as a partnership with the Washoe County School District to help prevent dropouts. Reduction in pool hours also have been another means of cuts.

“Moana Pool was cost-prohibitive,” she said. “Pools are very expensive.”

In Sparks, budget cuts have eliminated two code enforcement positions, making it more difficult to fight blight and curb the “broken-window” theory. Ratti said that government-funded programs are also lacking with the intervention department.

Mentoring programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters are good programs, she said, but volunteers need to be committed to being long-term role models for the kids they mentor.

“Like anything else, it’s about getting to them at the right time,” Ratti said. “We see support is missing for kids who want out. We need more Latino teachers and more Latino professionals.

Ratti added there are projects and programs the city is working on that she believes will help reduce gang-related activity.

“We have to look at neighborhood revitalization,” Ratti said. “We had to cut our graffiti funding in half. We used to have two (graffiti clean-up) guys and now we only have one. We have applied for a cop grant and we are asking for 20 more police officers.”

Yet, Ratti understands that between government, non-profits and individuals, it is not an easy road to travel.

“Are we doing enough as a community?” Ratti asked. “Absolutely not.”

Two pastors attack teens’ delinquent activity with spiritual weapons

By Jessica Garcia

Pastor Leslie Williams lost his 10-year-old nephew, A.J., in November 2007 when the boy was shot three times while crossing a street to enter a Chicago candy store. The bullets pierced A.J.’s neck, chest and thigh.

As he bled out, he made a sign of the cross with his arms.

The youngster, described by Williams as serious about his faith with dreams of being a pastor like his uncle, was caught in the crossfire of a gang-related shooting and died in his mother’s arms.

Out of his tragedy, Williams decided to create a program to reach out to one of the populations most in need of help.

“One of the things I say when I’m lecturing or teaching is … we can’t look past the fact that we lost three lives that day,” Williams said. “Two of those young men are now in prison for life. It’s easy to remember the victim, but the perpetrator is still someone’s son or someone’s daughter. And it was a hard thing for the family to hear because they thought I was being too sympathetic with the triggermen.”

To two local pastors — Williams of Christ Bethlehem Church and Pedro “Pepe” Gonzales of Victory Outreach in Sparks — every life is important and has a purpose, no matter how great the sin. In Reno and Sparks, both see a large field of teens who are easily influenced, recruited and manipulated into the gang lifestyle in the pursuit of drugs and guns under the cover of family and friends.

And both are on a mission as they use faith to intervene and introduce youth to both earthly and heavenly citizenship.

Inspired to reach out

While attending A.J.’s memorial, Williams said more than 204 teens made a decision to become Christians, the kind of numbers that most pastors only dream about seeing at one time, he said.

“That inspired me,” he said. “It’s in remembrance of A.J., but it’s also going to be a future for all the children I think would benefit. Whether you’re in a high-income bracket, whether you’re in the lowest, whether you’re in the best schools, whether you’re in the best neighborhoods, whether you’re in the lowest-income neighborhoods or the worst of schools, all children are at risk for these kinds of behaviors: gangs, drug use, unprotected sex, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS – they’re at risk. And we think because we’re in a better community, our children are immune from that. But every child’s at risk.”

After his nephew’s death, Williams found a home in Reno and is starting up a nonprofit program called Saving a Life Together, or SALT, to teach teens the dangers of joining gangs and empower them to help their peers. He and his staff will offer a year-long series of classes on gang prevention and provide activities on the weekends to teach teens how to play golf, go camping and play basketball. He is still in the midst of developing the program and has high hopes of reaching out to local youth, but it will take the community to be effective, he said.

“God puts people in positions to effect change and that’s why I’m here and that’s why you’re here and that’s why the Regional Gang Unit is there,” Williams said.

On Friday, Williams invited guest speaker Tony Little, a former Chicago gangster, to speak to a crowd of about 20 at Christ Bethlehem about the dangers of joining a gang. In the audience was student Larry Dotson, who said he had once considered joining a gang, but a run-in with the law in December quickly changed his mind.

“It’s nothing to flirt with,” he said.

Dotson, 17, a Reed High School student, started using drugs like cocaine and was arrested on two counts of armed robbery for stealing food from a convenience store in December, a crime he committed with some gang members. He was released after a week and spent 30 days under house arrest. He’s still on probation.

Dotson has disassociated himself from his former friends and considers himself lucky to have been able to break away.

“The people I was with, it wasn’t a true love for each other,” he said. “We’d go places and hang out, but once somebody went to jail it just seemed like there was no real love.”

Dotson, who shows unusual clarity of thought for someone his age, is eager to be a part of the SALT program to show other friends that gangs should not be an option for them.

“A kid, especially someone my age, that thinks they know everything, when they see a teacher like (Little) and explain the breakdown (of getting into gangs), it teaches us that we really know nothing and that we’re getting into something bigger than we could ever think,” Dotson said.

Outreach to the outcasts

At Victory Outreach, Pastor Pepe and his wife, Sylvia, also have a heart for the area’s unwelcome, whether they’re drug addicts, prostitutes or gang members. Their ministry is focused on such groups because they believe all people have a spiritual part that can be tapped into, no matter how bad the sin.

“It’s something that’s really going to work when you involve the spiritual,” Pepe said. “People are always looking for something spiritual. We were made like that. We’re all looking for something different. That’s why there are so many different religions.”

Pepe and Sylvia left San Bernardino, Calif. in March to take over the local Victory Outreach. The church was using the Neil Road Recreational Center, but staff members are preparing for a move to the Montello Street area near Wedekind Road. The Gonzaleses want to be in the center of gang activity where it’ll be easier to attract people who are dealing with gang and drug problems.

“It’s a lot of work,” Pepe said. “They come in with a lot of problems and end up in jail. That is sometimes disappointing. They start doing real good, but then they go back. We’re working with a young man right now who’s 14. He was doing real good, but went back to his gang. He and one of his friends tried to get alcohol and stabbed a guy.”

The ministry may be considered rough around the edges by other churchgoers, but Pepe and Sylvia say their kind of background is needed to make a connection and form relationships with gang members.

“We do have a 70 percent success rate,” Pepe said. “(They have to graduate) and graduation involves being involved in Bible studies every day, no jobs, no smoking, no drinking. You’re learning how to pray, how to read.”

Those who come to Victory Outreach aren’t allowed a job at first so they can focus on turning their life around, Sylvia said.

“Many people ask, ‘Can I get a job?’ ” she said. “I tell them, ‘No, if a job would have changed your life, it would have changed you a long time ago. You need a relationship with God.’ ”

The gangbangers’ reform

At 21, Pepe was doing drugs and committing burglaries with his mother. It wasn’t unusual for her to overdose on heroin. When she did time in prison for her crimes, she pimped women to their house for Pepe. Inevitably, he saw the consequences of these activities and for a long time, nothing of the lifestyle phased him and he had joined a gang by the age of 14.

“I grew up in a house where the cops would come and kick down the door and you would get thrown in the shower or thrown out for heroin (overdoses),” he said. “I lived in the neighborhood and when you live in the neighborhood, you’re almost forced into it or you get ostracized if you’re not.”

As a young adult, Pepe found some acceptance among other adults in the neighborhood because he had access to drugs at home. Gangs and narcotics went hand in hand as he pursued his own identity and he tried new experiences to clean up his life. He even got kicked out of the Army and was later told by a parole officer that he could get drunk or high or whatever he wanted — as long as he didn’t get caught.

Not long after, a confrontation with a police officer forced him to take refuge in a mission home, an event that changed his life forever. On Aug. 16, 1982, Pepe was saved in the Christian faith and ever since, he has never smoked, had a drink or carried guns.

Sylvia, meanwhile, was jumped into a gang at age 12. The daughter of a middle-class family, she felt she was never truly accepted by anyone and spiraled downward to a place she never wanted to, watching friends get raped and abused.

When she was 17, Pepe’s future wife was partying with gangs, ditching school and watching her grades drop as she began to care less about her studies.

One night, she found herself sitting on a curb outside a friend’s house in handcuffs, scared of what might happen to her. She was soon picked up by her mother at a police station after she and some friends were taken in for gang affiliation. It was just one of several similar incidents, though she was never arrested.

“I was looking for belonging,” she said. “Acceptance — that was my big thing. ... I started ditching school and getting involved in little crimes. I remember (when) I got handcuffed and I thought, ‘Oh, my god, I can’t believe this is happening to me.’ ”

Reform, however, wasn’t just for the pastors. Pepe’s younger brother, Augie, also found redemption through Victory Outreach after some of his difficulties as a child. He remembers his mother’s lifestyle as well.

“Every day I would come home and see people with needles in their necks, people knotted out on the tables and I’d go into the bedroom where they were making the drugs,” he said. “My mother was in and out of my life and so was my brother. He’d be at the Y, I was in jail. He’d be in the Army, I was in jail.”

Augie joined a gang at 12 and imitated the lifestyle of his closest family throughout his teen years. A neighborhood play called “50 Robbers” changed his life, he said, until 1983 through most of the 1990s when he relapsed in his old ways and faced two charges with possible life sentences: false imprisonment and kidnapping. At the time he thought he was just helping a friend, but when he arrived he learned that the favor was transporting a body from city to city.

Augie found help through his brother’s ministry after a period of feeling that God had abandoned him.

“These guys were praying for me but I said, ‘God don’t love me,’ ” he said. “I was all messed up and I stopped going to church. … But now I just want to tell these guys that there’s hope.”

Showing others the way

Today, the couple spend their lives seeking out people who are looking for a way out of the same pattern. They work in the inner-city ministry of Victory Outreach, a worldwide network of churches that attracts, rehabilitates and disciples what society would consider to be outcasts, reaching thousands of hardcore gang members, drug addicts and prostitutes to help turn their lives around using faith-based methods.

“We don’t just get them saved,” Pepe said. “We teach them how to be good citizens. We deal with their character, we deal with their integrity, we deal with their work ethics, their social ethics, you know, how to treat people because that’s what the Bible teaches.”

Those who come to Victory Outreach aren’t charged any money for the program, but Pepe and Sylvia will coordinate side jobs such as car washes to support their work.

Victory Outreach has grown from 14 to 65 since the Gonzales family came in March. They work with Children’s Cabinet as volunteers and are preparing to open an office for their church soon. Lately, they’ve been meeting in a house. They’re excited about the possibilities of their work and the potential in Reno.

Pepe envisions having a community center with pingpong tables, a pool table and Christian music in the near future.

Sylvia said helping teens to fit in an environment with better role models will help the local youth population and can also extend to their families.

“They come and as soon as they see change in their loved ones’ lives, they start coming to church,” she said. “Once a person gets plugged in, they become part of the church, like a little community.”

Pepe said the teens and young adults are an important part of Victory Outreach.

“In August, we’re taking eight of them to Ontario, Calif. for a youth conference to hear the Word and music,” he said. “What we have is called the GANG – God’s Anointed Now Generation. If it was classified as a gang, it would be the largest in America.”

The conference costs $220 and there’s still time for teens to sign up if they want to go, he said.

Changing church attitudes

Local churches need to be more mindful and accepting of anyone who walks through their doors, Williams said, and a lot of that starts with the pastors.

“Pastors first have to go educate themselves because if you don’t know culture, then you can’t deal with the problem,” he said. “You’ve got to know how they live in order to teach them how they can live. Pastors have to look at them not judgmentally. We have to look at them as God’s children.”

Fear of losing a portion of their congregations may also make church leaders reluctant to work in the kind of ministry Williams and Pepe are creating, but the church should be the place with the right attitudes to reach out to gang members, drug addicts and prostitutes.

“Some people in church are not going to want an HG, a hardcore gangster, sitting next to them in a church praising God,” Williams said. “ ‘I don’t believe he’s really saved.’ Well, that’s how they felt about (the missionary) Paul and with (the apostle) Peter.”

The work has created personal changes as well, Pepe said.

“We’ve invested our lives into this, this is what we’re going to do for the rest of our lives,” he said. “We didn’t just come out here and jump right in. We’ve prepared for this, gone to school, live this, breathe this. This is what we do. We love gang members. We love drug addicts. We love prostitutes. We want to see them change. We feel their heart, we feel their hurt, we feel their pain and we’ve seen how they’ve been rejected.”

Pepe said the pastors of Victory Outreach churches have dealt with the gang members and drug addicts for so long, they have developed an “in your face” approach to get through to them.

Changing city attitudes

Pepe has met with local officials, sometimes to no avail, he said.

“When I was growing up, there was something to do,” Pepe said. “There was recreation center with ping-pong. Right now, the Washoe County probation department is realizing that it’s just not a hard thumb (the teens) need, not just locking up and punishing them, but what can do they do to help them? I’ve been in meetings with lawyers and judges. We’re explaining our program and now they’re getting more open to that. Reno hasn’t really experienced gang violence like it could, but it’s growing.”

County’s gang unit battles crime and studies patterns of local gangs

By Jessica Garcia

Sgt. Magee of the Regional Gang Unit adjusted the spotlight on his patrol car, directing it to a bullet hole in the wall of a Reno apartment complex. It’s a small puncture that’s hard to notice in the corner of the building located on Grove Street.

“See that?” he said in the car Wednesday. “Six bullets were fired. That’s where one of them went.”

Magee said two men were arguing in the parking lot of the Palace Apartments a few months ago when the bullets were fired from a minivan that quickly fled the scene. One man was hit in the arm and the other in the leg. The trajectory of the bullet that lodged in the building could have also created a third victim of any innocent person walking along the second floor of the complex.

“It’s senseless,” said Magee, who asked that his first name not be used.

Most officers who investigate such scenes that involve gangs often think the same thing.

The Washoe County Regional Gang Unit (RGU) consists of 25 officers from the Reno and Sparks police and Washoe County Sheriff’s departments. The unit’s function is to gather intelligence, provide suppression, offer education to youth and adults and promote crime prevention in the community. Officers who serve in the unit constantly train themselves to stay on top of the most current gang trends to manage delinquent activity and criminal behavior as much as possible. They also facilitate gang intervention and diversion by referring at-risk or hardcore youth to various community services to break the gang cycle, keep the streets safe and apprehend gang members who have committed crimes.

A regional unit for a regional problem

Gangs, as the Regional Gang Unit defines them, have been in Truckee Meadows for more than 20 years. According to Sparks Police Deputy Chief Steve Keefer, gangs are not a one-city problem. They can be in any neighborhood at any time, though gangs typically are “dormant” during the winter and active on the streets during the summer.

“Gangs is not a Sparks issue,” Keefer said. “They’re not a Sparks problem. It is a regional problem across jurisdictions. They don’t know jurisdictional lines. It is an issue we face in the Truckee Meadows region and it is a group effort from many different elements that are combating this.”

Lt. Cmdr. Rocky Triplett, who oversees all investigative functions of the Sparks Police Department, said local gangs can be violent, hence dangerous to the community.

“You’ll have two groups that decide that they are going to confront each other whenever they have the opportunity and you’ll see anything from physical altercation to physical altercation involving bats and knives and you’ll see it escalating to drive-by shootings,” Triplett said. “They can be very, very violent, no doubt.”

Fitting the description

RGU officers identify gang members per the criteria in the Nevada Revised Statues.

NRS 193.168 defines a gang as “any combination of persons, organized formally or informally, so constructed that the organization will continue its operation even if individual members enter or leave.” The law specifically delineates such groups as having a common name or symbol, particular conduct and customs and commits criminal activity punishable as a felony in order to be recognized as a gang.

Magee said the criminal activity is often “anything that would give them any sort of economic gain.”

“Since they hang out on a regular basis, they generally don’t have jobs, so they have to support their activity,” Magee said.

The standards also help the gang unit reinforce to the public, particularly concerned parents, about what constitutes gang behavior and what doesn’t. Many factors, such as choice of apparel, doesn’t necessarily mean a teen is a gang member, the unit emphasizes. Triplett, however, takes issue with parents who don’t maintain a closer watch on what clothes their teens walk out the door wearing.

“If you’re a parent, why do you allow your child to dress like a gang member when it’s obvious that’s what they intend to do?” he said. “Why do you allow that to take place? “You don’t see people dressing like Hell’s Angels. There’s a difference between dressing individually with the baggy pants style of the day and specifically picking a tie that would associate you with a gang member.”

Magee said the responsibility falls on the parents to look out for indicators that their child is being drawn into a gang.

“Parents need to check their kids’ homework, their schoolbooks, their notebooks, their backpacks, if there is some kind of writing they can’t read or understand,” Magee said. “Are they wearing all red or all blue? You need to pick up on that and contact law enforcement.”

Many pieces make the unit go

RGU members have very specific assignments as gang specialists. Officers are educated through professional training and collect information from gang members and other sources. They are completely dedicated to gang issues.

“All our officers are generally no calls for service,” said Magee, a supervisor within the unit. “They don’t run to a domestic call. They don’t run to a shoplifting call and take reports. Their function is to gather intelligence, to meet with those folks that are possibility involved in criminal activity and get to identify them and build up their knowledge.”

According to its 2008 annual report, the unit obtains information through plainclothes surveillance and interviews with suspects, victims, confidential sources and gang members. The intelligence is kept confidential but if it’s regarding a teen, the gang unit sends certified letters home to parents explaining the situation about their child.

“As far as I know, we’re the only county that does that,” Magee said.

Strong tactics and trust

Gang members and associates have complained that the police are often overly aggressive when confronting them for information, using physical force or even weapons like Tasers when unnecessary. An attitude of mistrust stems from these events, local gang members have told the Tribune.

Magee said that if anyone feels they have been treated with excessive force, they can file a complaint with the police department.

The mistrust in the police is misplaced and misguided, several officers said.

“It’s a totally unjustified feeling,” Triplett said. “Very routinely you have a call of violence — a shooting, a stabbing — where there are groups of people together and they were there together prior to the altercation and it’s blatant that everyone you’re speaking to knows who’s involved, knows how to contact them and could give us all the information we need to hold the person accountable. We receive very little cooperation and quite frequently people lie to us and mislead us.”

Triplett described an incident involving a gun battle between two rival youth gangs that resulted in a young man being shot. One of the victim’s friends refused to be interviewed by detectives and to this day the case remains unsolved.

“There is a societal, cultural, I guess, standard where it’s taboo to talk to and cooperate with the police,” Triplett said. “That has way more to do with it than any mistreatment anyone has received from the local police department.”

Magee agrees the fear of approaching the police is unnecessary.

“Gang members have the same rights as anyone else,” he said. “We’re trained. If you break the law, you’re going to get in trouble. We have to protect the community and when we have large groups of people, it requires more control. On the scene, some family members may be a distraction and we have to make sure other gang members don’t interfere. We may be more stern in verbal command.”

Community collaboration

While law enforcement works to uphold the law, many other crucial partners, such as Washoe County Juvenile Services, help the RGU reach out to those who are on the verge of breaking the law. The gang unit often refers youth to these outside agencies that have a special expertise and can take over a particular case.

Concerned parents, for example, can seek help for their child, especially after they’ve committed a delinquent act, according to juvenile services community outreach program staff member Oscar Torres.

“The kids do not have to be on probation,” he said. “Any kid who has any kind of ties with gangs, even though he or she may not be a gang member, their parents can come to me or the police can come to me and fill out a form and I can provide services. … And because it’s not court-mandated, parents can refuse services and I close the file.”

Part of the value of these services, Torres said, is to help with gang prevention, especially in efforts to keep siblings from the influence of a brother’s or sister’s lifestyle.

However, one of the more difficult tasks Torres faces in his job is becoming the teen’s confidante, especially when they reveal information he is required by law to divulge to other agencies.

“I have a little easier time working with kids only because of the expectations they have from me,” Torres said. “Their expectations are different. The gang unit can arrest them and detain them. I cannot. If the kids are telling me, ‘I’m using marijuana,’ that’s going to stay between the two of us. I gain a lot more trust from them and I tell them, ‘You can always refuse help. You don’t have to see me, you don’t have to tell me.’ There is the expectation that I will not go and divulge to anybody, unless we are mandated to tell someone, like if a kid says he’s going to hurt himself.”

Torres said he has heard accounts of physical abuse and drug abuse in the home and that some kids consider these to be normal family behaviors.

“But the more serious things, they won’t talk about,” Torres said, “like, ‘I just shot somebody.’ ”

The RGU also is working with the Children’s Cabinet’s transition specialist program coordinator, Sara Ashley, to obtain federal grants for a new program called the Gang Reduction Alternatives for Success (GRAS). Youth who have been referred to the Children’s Cabinet can take classes to learn about substance abuse, family wellness, art and do other activities to stay off the streets. The amount of the grants vary and Ashley will fill a position with Children’s Cabinet for someone who will work to ensure that there is no duplication of resources or gaps in service.

Continuing the fight

Protecting the community is the RGU’s ultimate goal. But each person, whether they work in intervention, prevention or enforcement, finds some intrinsic value to what they’re doing.

“The personal gains I get from it are really great,” Torres said. “Working in prevention is the best. I’ll always be a prevention type of guy because it’s neat to see a kid who has a change in his or her attitude, coming from, ‘I do not care, I hate the world, I hate myself, I especially hate my parents’ to ‘This is not too bad; you guys are starting to make some sense.’ It’s great. I have one kid who just graduated from (the University of Nevada, Reno). She’s 23 and she hated her parents and she said they were the worst thing in the world and now she’s realized they were the only ones there for her. To see that type of change is worth it. It’s worth my time.”
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Brett Sanchez
August 05, 2009

Let me get this straight, you had a "white" woman as a consultant for a gang alternative program. Where is this so called research paper at and does the community have access to it?

With all do respect, Intervention, Prevention and Alternatives are key to any gang subculture. But what made Ratte and this assembly woman suggest enforcement? Law Enforcement, serves it's roll, but never in a Prevention, Intervention type setting. No wonder why any real programming has stuck here. You have the wrong people involved. But how can they not be, especially when they are getting paid?

Brett Sanchez

City Of Sparks

Mrs. Marquez
August 03, 2009
Leaders in both Reno and Sparks are concerned about gang activity and the need for more money to kickstart revitalization efforts. Julia Ratti, the newest member of the Sparks City Council and a former executive director of the Gang Alternatives Partnerhip, represents a ward in Sparks similar to Sferrazza’s in Reno. Ratti is starting to wrap her brain around the big picture of what it takes as a city official to clean up a neighborhood and battle the social ills that lead to gang activity — something Sferrazza has been working on for nine years.

City officials, want to speak to us as though they really care about this problem. They are so not with it, yet we expect for them to understand. If our city officials really cared, they would not only work closer with our communities but our school district as well. Our schools are losing our kids, when ever they can't seem to get a child to listen to them, when ever a child makes them realize they are not God, when ever a child thinks differant or contradicts an administrator as so many Chicano students do at Hug and at Traner, they get suspended, kicked out and at times even expelled for an entire school year. What do we think happens to a child that experiences this, especially in areas such as Montello and Neil Road? I just really wish we would be getting rid of some of these administrators as fast as they too are getting rid of our children. Personally, I can't seem to understand why parents don't have more power against our schools when it's our tax payers money paying their salaries?

What we need is good, caring, loving teachers in our schools. More color educators who can attract, teach and get the attention of some of these kids who are in such a fast manner throwing their lives away. Our schools could be doing such a much better job and trust me when I say this. White people, especially those who feel have administration powers, like the principles in our district can be such ignorant, dumb asses. The worst thing about this problem is that when you try to complain to someone, there isn't a board of trustee or a superintendant that will listen. This Dugans administration is very similars like the Reno Police Department, not only do they cover up their own shit but they protect themselves as well. I taught middle school for a long time, and I'm just mad at myself for never having the courage to have spoken up. I was always to worried about losing my job and well, as a result of that, I retired very unhappily. I hope that our next generation of color educators won't be as chicken as most of us were.

Get involved, the kids of today need you.

Mrs. Marquez
Emilio Perez
July 27, 2009
Reno City Councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza takes pride in the cleanup of the Oliver/Montello area in her ward. Bringing down the blight has helped rein in opportunities for gang activity in or near abandoned buildings there and improve neighborhood safety, she said.

Do you know what really bothers me about people like Councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza, is that they have the power to do better, they have the power to actually do something good for the community but instead and for what ever reason, they always fall short. Council woman, you took down three differant businesses that the northeast community depended on. You vanished the very little we had pride in. Where all the people who grew up there use to come together to socialize and hang out. You brought them down because you say, the gang activity and drugs were a problme in the area. MY question to you is how would you know, it's not like you live here? Well, let me give you an eye opener. You've done nothing to solve the problem. All you have done is misplaced it somewhere else. We're talking about a Barrio here, a place where since the 80's people have labeled it a low income area and as a result of the stereotypes and evil stories the gazzette has written we are nothing more than a run down neighborhood. You say you care, well, show us you care. Now, that you brought down this buildings maybe, now you can really do something good for us like building a swimming pool,or a minuture golf course, something for our young ones to have access to. Where funds can be raised and than put towards alternatives for at risk youth. Do that and maybe, we might just vote for you when you run for Lt. Governor.


Emilio Perez

Gangs: Prevention, intervention and enforcement by Jessica Garcia and Cortney Maddock

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