Friday, June 30, 2017
[Santa Barbara County] Pushing city limits: Santa Maria mayor starts collaborative effort toward at-risk youth prevention program
In the past 20 years, the city of Santa Maria averaged between one and three murders per year until a wave of violence between December 2014 and January 2016 that included 21 homicides—most of which were gang related.
To begin addressing the issue, Mayor Alice Patino started to collaborate with 5th District Santa Barbara County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, the city, and local community organizations to create the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety.
After the task force’s first meeting in April, the group received critique from the Santa Barbara County grand jury.
The grand jury released a report titled “Youth Safety: Developing a New Strategy” stating that the task force doesn’t address youth violence at the county level, funding for the project, and the issue of a divided social class within the city.
While the task force’s website states the group “includes a technical resource committee made up of agencies that deal specifically with at-risk youth in the city of Santa Maria,” City Manager Rick Hayden said violence doesn’t have city limits.
“Our major concern is the city of Santa Maria itself, and after we address those issues, we then want to address those issues with our neighboring jurisdictions as well,” he said.
Hayden questioned the timing of the report, saying the investigation was conducted mere months after the task force was established.
He said he wouldn’t have an issue with the grand jury report if the review had been conducted at the end of the year when the task force had a product to present.
“To do a report in the very beginning stage of a process and to cast a shadow of doubt on the entire project, I think is really disingenuous,” he said.
The group has met a total of three times since April. During those meetings, a few issues have been settled, he said.
Santa Maria has set aside nearly a quarter of a million dollars within its budget in ongoing funding for the task force and the programs it will eventually create, Hayden said. This is just the start; he said that the task force will also look into grants and other sources of funding.
The group has hired an outreach coordinator, a police officer to work with gang enforcement, and a position in the city’s Recreation and Parks Department designed to create more programs for youth within the Santa Maria Valley.
At the county level, the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council meets to discuss initiatives and strategies that target youth crime, delinquency, juvenile offenders, and at-risk youth.
Brian Swanson, Santa Barbara County’s probation manager, said the council comes from a state grant called the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act, which funnels state money to the county to aid programs in prevention and services for at-risk youth.
At the last meeting on June 2, Swanson said the council got an update that showed a decrease in the number of juvenile felony arrests countywide—a total of 297 arrests in 2015. There was also a decline in juvenile petitions for felony offenses in 2015, but the number of juvenile violent offenses increased; petitions for misdemeanor violent offenses increased by 58 percent.
“Looking at the data, you’re seeing trends that have occurred over the course of five to six years. There was a decrease for a couple of years, and now we’re seeing a slight increase,” Swanson said. “It’s a change in direction that is being observed and talked about.”
In 2015, the juvenile violent crime rate increased by 43 percent. The next step, Swanson said, is to address the issue, but every community in the county is different, with varied services or programs that are available and missing.
“What communities need to realize, is to make an impact on juvenile delinquency, it requires a whole host of programs and services,” he said.
A proactive community lends more resources for services and programs that work toward gang prevention or re-entry programs for those who’ve served time in juvenile detention, Swanson said.
“We’re [the probation department] more of a broker, if you will. It’s actually programs that provide direct services to the kids,” Swanson said. “We rely heavily on wrap-around community services, and we supervise our kids.”
His advice for cities and communities is to assess where they have gaps in services and programs for youth and families.
“Understand the different parts in the community: What kind of pro-social programs are there, where do kids go, what recreational programs do they have available,” he said. “Make a really good assessment of the community and figure out what could be built on and what needs to be established to help each other out.”
The Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety is currently trying to identify and fill any gaps in programs and services for local youth. Teresa Reyburn, the recreation services manager for the task force, is currently meeting with different agencies and programs to assess what the city’s missing.
So far, she’s found that there isn’t a tattoo removal program for teens—which can be very significant if someone is trying to get out of a gang-related situation, Reyburn said.
Overall, Reyburn said she’s excited to see this kind of project come to life in the city because there’s synergy between not only public agencies but also a community that has a voice in this project as well. She pointed out that any community member or organization can help with the task force by coming to public meetings, volunteering, or by simply reaching out.
“When we get together, people say, ‘I can do this and that,’ there’s just so much help from all areas of the community and commitment to this project,” Reyburn said. “That’s the city we live in.”
June 28, 2017
Santa Maria Sun
By Karen Garcia