The wave of shootings in East Palo Alto -- 19 people were shot in the first 22 days of the year, including three homicides -- was caused by conflict between street gangs, East Palo Alto Police Chief Ron Davis say police believe.
Most of the shootings, including seven people wounded between last Wednesday night and last Sunday night, were from a conflict between two East Palo Alto gangs, Davis said.
"We think it's gang related," Davis said. "Most (involve) narcotics and are retaliatory. Most (victims) are being targeted."
The shooting last Sunday afternoon that left a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old dead was also gang-related, Davis said police believe, not connected to the other shootings.
Instead, Davis said police believe the Sunday shooting was retaliation for a shooting in Redwood City Saturday night that left three men wounded. And the Saturday night and Sunday afternoon shootings are a conflict between two local Latino gangs affiliated with the large, prison-based Latino gangs, Nortenos and Surenos, which could indicate the beginning of a conflict between gangs in Redwood City and East Palo Alto.
"Now, we need to target those (East Palo Alto) gangs and make sure there isn’t any conflict between Redwood City and East Palo Alto gangs," Davis said.
In response to the shootings over the last week, the East Palo Alto police announced new efforts last Friday to step-up anti-violence efforts, including increased patrols and offering $500 and $1,000 rewards, "no questions asked," for information leading to recovery of handguns and assault rifles, respectively.
The added patrols resulted in several arrests and weapons recovered on Saturday night, Davis said, including three vehicle chases and stops. One person arrested had been out of prison just 12 hours.
Days off for East Palo Alto officers have been cancelled and night patrols have been doubled to about 12 officers from the normal six. Some nights, Davis said, there may be as many as 15 or 17 officers in the field as the FBI, parole and probation officers are joining the effort, along with additional San Mateo County Sheriff's deputies.
"We'll continue this schedule until further notice," Davis said.
Davis also said the increased gang violence could be a "powder keg" that police want to stop from going off. Officers are targeting known areas where gang members hang out, he said.
If the current police efforts don't quell the street shootings, Davis said he would consider asking for assistance from police in Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Officers from those cities helped East Palo Alto 15 years ago, forming a squad that targeted street drug dealers.