BAKERSFIELD - Officials are revamping their efforts to combat gang violence. Six years after city and county officials created a Joint Gang Task Force, gang violence is still high.
Now, they're looking to combat the problem with intervention more than suppression. The group estimates there are more than 8,000 documented and suspected gang members in Kern County in 20 different gangs. This is after millions of dollars have been spent on suppression efforts.
The Joint Gang Task Force met Thursday morning to discuss adopting a new strategic plan to combat gang violence. According to task force documents, when the program began in 2007 the city and county saw a decrease in gang violence.
The documents say the following statistics were taken from the Bakersfield Police Department and the Kern County Sheriff's Department. In 2006, 54 percent of homicides in the city were gang-related. In the county, 30 percent of homicides were gang-related. But after a year of task force initiatives, that rate dropped to 28 percent in the city and 8 percent in the county.
But in 2009, the document says the county and city cut funding from $24 million in 2007 to $9.2 million. That's when gang-related crimes jumped back up, according to the document. Officials say the problem compounded with the implementation of prison realignment, a federally mandated initiative to reduce state prison populations by sending more criminals to county custody.
"I believe we're making a dent, but it's a big problem and a problem that compounded by the state and the prisoners that they're sending back," said Karen Goh, President of Garden Pathways. "I believe that in prevention we're making a difference in young people not making those negative choices in the future."
On Thursday, city and county officials talked about focusing on stopping gang affiliations before they start instead of cracking down on criminals already in gangs. Although the task force strives for a three-pronged approach of suppression, intervention, and prevention.