A full house turned up for the first public meeting since a recent wave of gang shootings saw one man killed, others injured and a few neighborhoods around town deal with gunfire.
The shootings have been attributed to warring Sureño and Norteño gangs in town, and Tuesday’s presentation was part of city officials’ reaction to pressure created by an explosion of outrage in the aftermath of violence.
Though crime overall was down in 2009 compared with 2008, some violent crimes spiked in the last two months of last year, and headline-grabbing homicides, robberies and the most recent gang shootings have skewed the public’s view of crime and created an impression that Tracy is a dangerous place to live, Thiessen said.
Overall, she said, Tracy was the 11th safest city in California in 2009, judging by FBI statistics. That’s better than in 2008, when Tracy was judged the state’s 14th safest town.
But the chief has now set a target to slash violent crime by 10 percent this year and to make Tracy the safest city in Northern California, rather than the second-safest, behind Sunnyvale.
Though thefts fell, robberies were up in 2009 from the previous year, there were five homicides in 2009 when there were none in 2008, assaults were up slightly and burglaries rose.
“We are a safe city, but that may give little comfort to those who have been victimized,” she said.
The chief noted that more officers will be assigned to fight gangs, and police are already making a stronger effort to stop suspected gang members on the street and, with the help of parole or probation agents, in their homes.
She said the city will look to create drug- and gang-free zones where young people congregate, but she said an effort to get a “gang injunction” — a rule that says gang members cannot set foot in certain blocks or neighborhoods — “are difficult to achieve.”
Thiessen said “enforcement” will be the city’s primary emphasis, because it “sets the tone of low tolerance for any criminal behavior.”
But she also said that “law enforcement is not a substitute for parenting.”
Several citizen speakers also urged the city to get tough with gangs. Council members had yet to speak as of press time.
Tracy resident Jason Marty said he no longer goes to the West Valley Mall because of gang members he’s seen there, and he complained he’s been stared down by gang members while driving his car with his wife. He also complained that his mailbox has been tagged.
“What we need to do is to step up and fight gangs,” he said.
David Helm, owner of Helm’s Ale House and a former police officer in Hayward, said Tracy’s problems are “not a spike” in gang violence, “but a view of things to come” if the city fails to crack down. He said arresting gang members for any violation is the best way to prevent future violent crime.
But others said the only way to cure the gang problem is to intervene in the lives of kids teetering on the edge of gang life, or to reach out to those who are in gangs to give them a way out.
Thiessen noted the city does work with nonprofit groups to help young people who might succumb to pressure to join gangs, and work is being done in schools, as well.
Others said, ultimately, that’s the only solution.
“One of the things that I’ve learned in dealing with gangs and with kids,” said Kevin Lambert of Mountain House, “is that prevention is the best resource.”
He said people need to get involved to stop gangs from preying on kids so that the city “can break their supply line.”