Salinas has had no shortage of violence lately with two deadly shootings just last week. But this week the city is being looked at as a model for its efforts in reducing youth violence.
A delegation visiting from Washington D.C. spent Tuesday and Wednesday going to meetings, presentations and tours like one in the refurbished National Guard armory across the street from the Salina’s Police Department.
“We are breathing new life into this old building,” says Salinas Police Officer Angel Gonzalez. He leads the tour of the future home of the Police Activities League, a long running program designed to give kids something to do that keeps them off the streets.
The tour is for a federal delegation from the Department of Justice, and other agencies. They’re here as part of the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention. Salinas is one of ten cities involved nationwide. The idea is to create collaboration between communities heavily affected by youth and gang violence.
“It’s reciprocal because we’re learning as much as we’re looking at what’s going on here. That’s the beauty of this national model. And so we are shaping this together nationally to see what works,” says Jack Calhoun, a Senior Consultant to Department of Justice who will visit all the cities.
Calhoun says he’s seen a lot of things that work in Salinas, especially the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace or CASP.
The group has become the backbone of community efforts. It’s made up of more than 100 members from local government, businesses, education, faith and non-profit groups. All have a stake in and play a role in reducing youth violence.
CASP worked with the City to develop the community strategy for violence reduction and the group continues to meet twice a month.
“So that group becomes a governance body. How we doing? You the schools said you would provide X. How we doing? You the faith community said you’d promise mentors for school phobic third graders, how we doing,” says Calhoun.
“Our ultimate vision is a city at peace through the mission of reducing youth violence. And in particular with youth violence, the majority that happens is with gang violence. If you look at violence overall, if you took out gang violence component, our numbers drop,” says Jose Arreola, CASP’s Program Director and Community Safety Director with the City of Salinas.
Arreola cites numbers from the Monterey County Health Department that show a steady drop in youth victims of violent crimes in the last five years. The city started participating in the forum in 2010.
“That takes a larger evaluation to prove correlation, but I don’t think it’s any coincidence. I think there’s a lot going on. We’ve kind of created a model where we say this is how we do business in our city and our county, we work together,” says Arreola.
Just one example lies in the Police Activities League which requires community volunteers and business and nonprofit support to work.
As Officer Gonzalez continues his tour of the armory, he stops in a room that will be the homework center and recounts a story about a run in he had at a game in PAL’s baseball summer league, Junior Giants.
“There’s a guy that years ago that I was in a fight with, trying to take him into custody. Local gang member. Hadn’t seen him in a few years, apparently he had gone to prison. He was out at the park one day. Saw him kind of walking towards me and thought to myself, oh no,” says Gonzalez.
But instead of a confrontation, he says the man shook his hand, pointed to his son at first base and thanked him for the program.
“We’re breaking that cycle, not only with the kids, but some of these parents,” says Gonzalez.
Later this year, a delegation from Salinas will head to D.C. to meet with other cities in the forum.