The city of Gilroy formed the South County Youth Task Force (SCYTF) as a collaborative effort of participating agencies to provide positive, supportive alternatives to gang recruitment of youth in South Santa Clara County. Task force members include a diverse range of private citizens, representatives from city, county and state government, local community-based organizations, schools, parents, faith community and local law enforcement. With initial primary funding from several local agencies and school districts, the program has been expanded by three consecutive grants. The regional program is making positive, quantifiable inroads into steering at-risk youth towards positive alternatives to gang involvement.

Southern Santa Clara County has become a target for recruiting young gang members. This area encompasses the cities of Gilroy (population 51,000), Morgan Hill (population 38,000), the unincorporated area of San Martin (population 7,000) and a largely unpopulated rural area. One-quarter of Gilroy’s residents were born outside the United States, primarily Mexico and 43 percent speak a language other than English in the home. One in five Morgan Hill residents is foreign born. Local schools experience high truancy, suspension and expulsion rates, and low graduation rates. This set the stage for unsupervised youth with lots of unstructured time and poor job prospects.

Gang activity has had a negative and growing impact on the cities and surrounding communities. Between 2011 and 2012, many leaders from South County’s largest gang were removed from the streets through two successful regional law enforcement operations totaling more than 150 arrests. Gilroy’s violent crime rates dropped by 4 percent in 2012 and non-violent crime by 16 percent. Gang crime in unincorporated rural areas, however spiked by 36 percent in 2012, with 43 percent of the 51 incidents perpetrated by youth ages 15-19.

Gilroy has the most validated gang members of any city in the Santa Clara County per capita, with 975 documented gang members and associates. Intensifying the local gang situation are returning/older gang members as a result of AB 109. Since the 2011-12 arrests, local gangs have been heavily recruiting youth to fill their ranks.

The city’s post-arrest crime decrease disappeared, replaced with a 20 percent spike in violent crimes in 2014. The bulk of supportive social services and resources are located in San Jose, about 30 miles north of Gilroy. This requires a three-plus hour multi-transfer round trip by public transportation at $6 per person for those seeking services.

SCYTF determined early on that CalGrip would be the only meaningful funding source to achieve the needed prevention and intervention services to South County. While economies are slowly rebounding from the Great Recession, South County cities lagged behind the rest of the county as residents were particularly hard hit by unemployment and foreclosures.

Gilroy received its first CalGrip grant for 2011-13, which totaled $250,000. The funds were used to put infrastructure in place, form a regional policy team and develop a Strategic Plan. Additionally, case management services were provided to 30 youth, with 150 youth participating in group support activities.

A second CalGrip grant, totaling $500,000, was awarded for 2014-15. This provided financial resources to develop a technical team which provides programming, parent support and training, two full-time intervention workers, one full-time probation officer, and one full-time SCYTF coordinator. New partnerships were also developed with the Gilroy Foundation and the Gilroy Rotary Club.

Another initiative developed was Safe Schools, Safe Streets and Safe Youth, which included development of a crisis response and communication protocol aimed at preventing and de-escalating incidences of violence on and around school campuses. This initiative also increased communication with parents, family and the community, evening socialization with targeted youth, evidence-based support groups, engagement in community activities and the inclusion of the faith-based community.

As a direct result of the success and accomplishments realized under the first two grants, a third CalGrip grant, totaling $1,500,000 was awarded for 2015-17. Primary goals under this grant are:

  • To prevent gang involvement in hot spot neighborhoods and schools by increasing pro-social opportunities for youth and their families;
  • To intervene early with high-risk youth and intervene intensively with gang impacted youth by increasing opportunities for these youth for positive futures; and
  • To reduce gang activity and climate with chronic offenders by working with high-risk/gang-involved individuals to reduce negative behaviors.

Additional goals are to develop new community-based partnerships, provide seed money to organize faith-based collaborations, provide new evidence-base, culturally responsive trainings and financial support for community policing efforts.

Agencies that contribute financially to SCYTF include the cities of Gilroy and Morgan Hill, Santa Clara County, the Gilroy Unified School District, the Morgan Hill Unified School District and the Gilroy Youth Task Force.

The project has several goals and measurable objectives to achieve.

The South County One Neighborhood Empowered (ONE) Project. This initiative has qualitative and qualitative goals and specific quantifiable objectives. The project design reflects three overarching goals guided by SCYTF’s Strategic Plan:

  1. Improve/increase service coordination and effectiveness;
  2. Expand and enhance support services for youth in multiple “hot spots;” and
  3. Change systems and improve capacity and expertise of Community Based organizations, law enforcement, parents, faith-based organizations, youth and school personnel with evidence based programming.

ONE has engaged a third-party evaluation team, Community Crime Prevention Associates (CCPA) that is nationally known and recognized for its experience evaluating community and crime prevention efforts. CCPA has evaluated and assisted the San Jose Gang Task Force to improve its operation and effectiveness for 28 years, and the Santa Clara County Juvenile Probation Department for 18 years. The CCPA evaluation scope covers three areas:

  1. Effort (what inputs and activities produce effects);
  2. Effect (what happens as a result of the inputs); and
  3. Results (change over time).

CCPA employs a survey of adolescent developmental assets and evaluates each service activity on a quarterly basis for goals met, and indicates corrective actions as needed.

Key ONE project level process and success indicators include but are not limited to numbers of participants and staff (for each program and collectively), number and type of primary, secondary and tertiary services available as a result of the ONE project, units of service delivered, cost per unit of service, client length of participation and completion rates, percentage of goals achieved by individual participants, truancy and expulsion rates, number of referrals and rate of successful enrollment for service delivery. ONE will also do comparative annual reviews of key gang crime indicators for the targeted hot spots.

The services put into place under this program have begun to yield results with 85 percent of participating students increased their participation at school and 92 percent increased their ability to choose friends who make positive choices. In six months, more than 1,800 contacts were made at the street and school level with gang involved or high risk youth. More than 150 unduplicated youth have been served with tailored intervention services.

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Originally posted at the League of CA Cities.