Outraged by the Cinco de Mayo Day shooting of five people at a bus stop, East Palo Alto Police Chief Ronald Davis and Mayor Ruben Abrica vowed on Monday to hammer hard on two gangs believed responsible for a surge in violence in the city since January.
The brazenness of the 2:45 p.m. shooting, in which two young men stopped in a car on Bay Road near McDonald's restaurant and opened fire on four young men, a grandmother and a 6-year-old child waiting for a bus, has unnerved the community, Davis said. One young man was shot in the side but is expected to survive; the other men were shot in the lower extremities. The grandmother was shot in the leg, and the child received cuts to her knee as she ducked bullets and fell onto the pavement, either cutting her knee on the sidewalk or on broken glass, he said.
"No violence is tolerated, but there are deeper levels of violence that shock our sense of humanity, and to just pull up and fire into a crowd of six people when a little child is there is beyond the realms of humanity. And I think we need to have a response that makes it clear that there is never a circumstance in which we would even think about considering that or accept that under any condition," Davis said.
Davis and Abrica said the city would continue its holistic approach to gang violence, which includes sit-down meetings and offers of social services, job counseling and other services to young people willing to renounce the gang life. And Abrica asked the community to continue to step forward with information to stop the perpetrators.
"We are very determined to put an end to this violence. Unless we work together, we're not going to stop this violence," he said.
But they had a stern warning for those who choose to continue the violence:
"We will make it very clear this community will not tolerate the violence, and we're going to hold you accountable. ... We believe in a very balanced approach, and we do want people to stop. We want to provide alternatives. We want to make our community safe. But for those who would reject the community's offer for assistance, for those who would still try to terrorize and traumatize the community -- that a grandmother and a 6-year-old can't stand at a bus stop -- then the only thing I have for them would be incarceration, and we are going to do everything to put them behind bars," Davis said.
East Palo Alto has had eight shootings in eight days, Davis conceded. Four homicides have occurred so far this year. In 2012 there were seven. Overall, there were 80 assaults with a firearm or misses in which a gun was fired in 2012, which is down from as many as 150 seven years ago. But that figure is double that of 2011, when there were 40.
Law enforcement and city officials are worried because firearms assaults and misses this year are the same or above last year's numbers for the first few months of the year. Most of the violence has been perpetrated by gang members, who were also most of the victims. In Sunday's shooting, four of the young men have gang ties, Davis said.
Yale Associate Professor of Sociology Andrew Papachristos, who has been studying violent-crime networks in Chicago, said studies show between 3 and 6 percent of a city's population commits 75 percent of violent crime. He is working with East Palo Alto police to develop a "Social Network Analysis" of violence victims and offenders for both gangs. The study will help law enforcement more closely define the small knots of gang members and how they associate and to target more strategic ways to intervene. Papachristos is also studying crime epidemics in Cincinnati, Oakland, Boston, Newark and other cities, he said at the Monday news conference.
Social Network Analysis is new to criminal justice but has been used extensively in public health to study how illnesses such as sexually transmitted diseases are spread by behaviors and groups, he said in a recent U.S. Department of Justice interview.
Applied law enforcement, the analysis looks at relationships among groups and how they influence behavior. Similarly, crime can be viewed as a disease and analyzed by how it spreads through a population.
Most models relying on risk factors, are flawed, he said.
"The dumbed-down version of the fancy statistical equation is if you're poor, young, black and live in 'this' neighborhood and don't have a high school diploma, you're going to be a victim or an offender. The problem is most poor, young black people that live in those neighborhoods never shoot anybody or never are shot," he said.
There is an assumption that violent crime is "sort of airborne. That you walk into a neighborhood, and you get shot or you walk into a neighborhood and you start shooting," he said. But the nature of relationships determines far better who is likely to become violent or be a victim, he said.
Davis said the current gangs responsible for the crime are not members of the local Taliban or DaVill gangs, which came under intense scrutiny last year after a series of shootings in Menlo Park and East Palo Alto. He declined to name the two current gangs. But he said efforts against the Taliban and DaVill, which began in November, show the strategies currently used are working. Those include Operation SMART (Strategic Multi-Agency Response Team), which involves joint investigations with local, state and federal law enforcement and services that address the root problems of crime.
A similar strategy will be immediately applied to the current violent gangs. Efforts include coordinating gang and narcotics enforcement, using a homicide and aggravated-assault response team to respond to all shootings related to the gangs; conducting "Operation Ceasefire" call-ins in May with gang members to offer social, medical and jobs services as alternatives to gang life; and referral of gang members on probation or parole to the David Lewis Community Reentry Program, which helps parolees return to society.
San Mateo police chief Susan Manheimer, president of the San Mateo County Police Chiefs and Sheriff Association, said the county's gang task force would ramp up on May 15. The coalition is growing throughout San Mateo County to dissolve the gangs, and it includes police departments from multiple cities.
Davis said his department would not wait until the county force takes action, however. The city is coordinating with other municipalities where gangs who have ties to the area frequent.
In addition to Manheimer, Daly City police Chief Manuel Martinez Jr. and Menlo Park police Chief Bob Jonsen spoke about coordinating with East Palo Alto, and police departments from San Mateo and Redwood City are expected to collaborate. Palo Alto and Menlo Park police have been working closely with East Palo Alto to investigate the violent crimes.