The Justice Department has invited the city to apply for a federal grant of up to $1.25 million that would pay for a mammoth multiagency assault on violent crime and drug use in a local high-crime neighborhood.
Called Operation Weed and Seed, the experimental program would coordinate local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to arrest violent offenders, prevent gang- and drug-related crime and encourage community policing. It would also involve a wide array of prevention programs, social services and government support to revitalize targeted neighborhoods, city officials said Friday.
The Justice Department has invited 16 cities nationally to apply for the grants. The City Council will consider whether to approve the grant request at its meeting Monday.
"This is not intended to be solely a federal handout," said Ed McGah, executive assistant U.S. attorney for the central district of California in Los Angeles. "It's intended to help the (cities) to call upon their own resources."
About half of the 16 cities invited to apply will receive grants. The money would pay for programs of 12 to 18 months.
Other cities competing for grants include San Diego, Denver, Seattle, Washington and Atlanta. The Justice Department will name the recipients by March 31, McGah said.
He emphasized that the program is not designed solely to reduce the crime rate but also to rehabilitate neighborhoods by providing such services as job training and placement, after-school recreation programs and financial help for businesses.
"The department is very serious about this," he said. "It's not just a law-enforcement initiative with a fancy title."
The difference in approach, McGah said, should have a lasting impact. While intensive law enforcement will alleviate crime temporarily, problems will return unless the community's needs are addressed.
"Crime doesn't generally thrive in solid neighborhoods, where there's good opportunities for people," he said. "Crime thrives in underprivileged, depressed neighborhoods."
Santa Ana and the U.S. attorney's office have combined to fight crime. Two weeks ago, officials announced that they had obtained federal indictments of two alleged drug dealers arrested in Santa Ana in drug sales involving quantities normally too low to warrant federal attention.
The U.S. attorney's office said it decided to pursue prosecution of the Willard neighborhood drug cases because the city had demonstrated its commitment to fight crime there. In addition to extra police enforcement, the city stepped up code enforcement and involved neighbors in efforts to eradicate crime.
Police Chief Paul M. Walters said Friday that should Santa Ana receive a federal grant, the money would be used to target an area bounded by 1st Street to the north, McFadden Avenue to the south, Sullivan Street to the west and Raitt Street to the east.
Police statistics for 1990, the most recent year available, show that the number of crimes reported for that district totaled 2,416; the average was 771 for other districts in the city.
Walters said the area will be targeted because residents have joined with with schools and churches to fight crime problems.
City Councilman John Acosta said he supports the plan. "The concept is good, but I wish we could use this citywide and not just in a targeted area. We have drug problems everywhere."
Acosta said his own proposal to create a city youth advisory commission could tie in with the federal program, if Santa Ana receives the funding. He has proposed that Santa Ana High School students be brought together four times a year to advise the City Council on issues such as drugs, gangs and creating harmony among diverse ethnic groups.
The youth-panel proposal is also scheduled to be considered at the council meeting Monday.