The Santa Paula Boys & Girls Club may restrict its ties to a county juvenile offender program after a 15-year-old boy allegedly brought a loaded gun to the club where he had been ordered to do community service, club officials said Tuesday.
Santa Paula police arrested the teen-ager about 5 p.m. Monday after a staff member at the club said he spotted the pistol tucked in the youth’s waistband.
The teen-ager, whose name was not released, then showed the staff member the 9-millimeter semiautomatic and unloaded the bullets, club Director David Blevins said. But when the staff member asked for the weapon, the youth refused.
“The staff member took the gun away from him,” Blevins said. “I understand there was a little wrestling involved.”
The incident has raised the question of whether the club will continue allowing juvenile offenders to make amends for their crimes by working at the club, said Kay Wilson-Bolton, president of the club’s board of directors.
“We’d be irresponsible in not reconsidering our position on that,” she said. “It puts so many people at risk in an unknown situation. The kid didn’t brandish the weapon at anyone, but I don’t know what he was trying to prove.
“If a choice has to be made, we’ll just choose our kids first,” she added.
Board member David Luna said the board’s executive committee on Friday will discuss restricting or ending its affiliation with the program, which is run by the county Corrections Services Agency.
The 15-year-old has admitted he is a gang member, Police Cmdr. Bob Gonzales said. He was assigned to perform community service after being caught in possession of a switchblade knife.
The youth refused to talk with police after his arrest, and was booked into Juvenile Hall, Gonzales said.
Blevins said the youth, who was not a member at the club, said he was carrying the weapon because someone was after him and he was afraid.
Luna said Monday’s incident is particularly worrisome because the club was recently renovated and is trying to boost its image as a safe haven for children, free of gang violence.
“We don’t want to draw that bad element to the club,” said Luna, who is principal of Glen City School in Santa Paula.
At the same time, club officials noted that this was the first incident of its kind at the youth center, which provides organized activities for hundreds of children.
“It’s unfortunate that this did happen because we feel we’ve been a real partner in the county programs and never had reason to be concerned,” Wilson-Bolton said.
Karen Staples, an administrator with the corrections agency, said juvenile offenders who commit less serious crimes are frequently given the option of performing community service rather than being put on formal probation.
From January through August of this year, 2,800 kids have performed more than 10,500 hours of community service throughout Ventura County, she said.
The Santa Paula club is the only agency in the city with a formal arrangement with the county to allow juveniles to perform community service. Some teen-agers are allowed to perform work independently at their church or school, she said.
If the club pulled out of the program, Staples said, the county would have to look for another agency in Santa Paula willing to take on the responsibility of monitoring the teen-agers and making sure they completed their assigned tasks.
“I would hate to do that,” she said, “because the Boys & Girls Club is such an appropriate place for kids who obviously have so much spare time on their hands.”
Monday’s incident has left the center’s staff “scared stiff” and worried that the club’s reputation will be tarnished, Blevins said.
“We want to build a positive environment for children here,” he said.