Small Measures in Fight Against Gangs : Santa Ana Faces Shrinking Budget, Growing Problem

This will be a record year in Santa Ana, but for the wrong reasons. The city's homicide toll will be higher than ever; right now it's around the 59 mark, the record set in 1991, and there are still more than three months left.

Santa Ana police aren't sure why there are so many murders. One officer ticks off possible reasons that include more gangs and more guns.

A year ago the Santa Ana City Council responded to justified public outrage over a gang member's killing of a father of three by proclaiming an ambitious anti-gang program. Sadly, only a tiny part of that program has been implemented: publication of gang prevention and youth resource directories.

The hot line for reporting gang activity was never set up; nor was a gymnasium to help keep youths off the street. The council had hoped vandalism by graffiti would decline enough to let it transfer $250,000 from a graffiti removal budget to recreation programs. Instead, graffiti grew worse.

Mayor Daniel H. Young is right when he says gang problems can't be solved overnight and when he says the city is strapped for cash. But he's wrong to say most residents feel safe, as he does.

The mayor acknowledged that random shootings make everyone nervous, but he added that most who commit drive-by shootings have a target in mind and if you're not in a gang, you're not in much trouble. Fair enough, but Police Chief Paul M. Walters seemed closer to the mark when he wrote in an article in The Times last December that residents in high-crime neighborhoods "live in constant fear."

The economy is not offering Santa Ana any help, either. Teen-agers who want to work find that jobs aren't available. Companies that might be willing to take a chance on a youth with no experience in good times are finding it's all they can do to hang on in these bad times. Hoped-for federal funds didn't arrive in the measure sought. In the summer of 1992, the city was able to hire 600 youths; this year the number was 400.

But the City Council deserves good marks for doubling the budget of the PRIDE program to $300,000. The program provides an anti-gang curriculum, trips and clubs for fourth- and fifth-graders, reaching about 8,000 children at 32 schools and parks. Warning young children about gangs is smart.

Also worthwhile are new outreach efforts like teaching basic job skills to teen-age parents and a business skills academy at Valley High School. St. Joseph Catholic Church deserves credit, too, for starting a weekly evening of games and crafts for children.

Another hopeful sign is the $384,000 grant in June to the nonprofit Civic Center Barrio Housing Corp. to help its $8-million program to provide low-cost housing along a section of Myrtle Street.

Better housing can help motivate people to battle gangs and crime in their neighborhood, and improve their surroundings. One thing police say they're happy with is the willingness of neighborhood associations to get involved, to try to take back the streets from thugs. The Willard neighborhood, near the Civic Center, continues to fight drug pushers and gets deserved support from police.

The fight against crime must be waged at all levels. Parents need to warn their children away from gangs and guns and support the schools' attempts to provide a good education. Residents need to back their neighborhood associations and work with police to battle drugs. The City Council needs to push programs that work and keep hunting for funds. Let this be the last record year for homicides.

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