Captain Robert Lewis of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station dropped in on Thursday’s meeting of the Anti-Gang Task Force, updating the group on law enforcement efforts, sharing his insights and supporting the group’s mandate of working towards a common goal.
Lewis, SCV’s top cop just one week into the job, did not shy away from – nor did he sugar coat – the reality of gangs in the Santa Clarita Valley and periodic episodes of gang violence.
“Do we have gangs? Yes. Do we have gang problem? No,” Lewis told a group of about two dozen community members taking part in the task force.
At least three participants said they were members of the original Anti-Gang Task Force formed back in 1991.
The task force changed its name for a while to the softer title of – Neighborhood Empowerment Safety Team – but decided to return to the name that sums up its mission: The Anti-Gang Task Force.
Meeting quarterly, the task work works to discourage gang activity, lessen the appeal of gangs, and reduce gang crime in Santa Clarita through partnerships, proactive programming, and networking.
Graffiti removal specialist Andrew Pastor told the group, he and his volunteers participating in graffiti abatement projects removed 3,600 gang tags last year. Tagging on average, according to his latest number, amounts to just under 10 gang tags left on the community each day.
Although he would not disclose specifics, to protect the investigation, Lewis told the group of a gang incident that occurred in the SCV just “last night,” meaning Wednesday.
“We have a gang issue, and we are going to address it. We address it first by trying to know where we’re at,” he said, advising the group to give his detectives time “to sift through” the information.
“What we’ve been seeing are transient gangs,” Lewis said. “A gang member comes up here and tries to make a mark. They try to entrench themselves here.
“We have to find out those individuals are,” he said.
Tony Matthess told the group he was a member of the Anti-Gang Task Force a quarter century ago when civic leaders began responding to the threat of gangs emerging in SCV.
“Back then we were looking for Utopia,” Matthess said. “We wanted zero tolerance and we didn’t want any gangs here.”
“For me, I’ve got to go back to basics,” he said. “I want to know what gangs are here because you’ve got to identify just how much water there is in the bucket.”
Task force members reminded Matthess of the sheriff’s longstanding participation in the task force and of the regular exchange of information shared by deputies.
Detective Dan Finn, a 15-year member of the task force, touched briefly on last week’s fatal shooting in Newhall in which a gang member was shot and killed on Bottletree Lane near the intersection of Valle Del Oro and Dockweiler Drive.
Finn said “the most recent trends in gang activity” involve children being targeted who are of junior high school age.
“That’s what we’re seeing,” he said. “What information I get, I bring back to my bosses, then I bring it to the task force.”
Hope Horner, the group’s community services administrator, reminded the group that “the goal is to get kids coming here,” referring to after school programs for kids at risk of exposure to gangs.
One such intervention program singled out Thursday is called, Homework Help, which invites kids living in the Park Sierra Apartments near Jakes Way to visit a designated apartment where volunteers help kids with their homework.
Anyone wanting more information about the program is urged to call 661-286-4006.
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