Gathering politicians and law-enforcement officers for a few hours surely will not provide Orange County with all the solutions it might like to have in dealing with its growing gang problem. However, today’s gang summit in Anaheim should be regarded as an effort to lay some important groundwork.
The meeting will be significant in large part because it will dramatize the problem and provide a way to pool ideas and resources. Indeed, the fact that the meeting even is being held signals significant progress.
It was not so long ago that some community leaders were denying that Orange County had such a problem at all. For example, when Anaheim, where the gathering is being held, was presented in 1984 with testimony about gang activity from police, social workers and gang members, officials issued a report saying that gangs did not exist.
Today, the older communities like Anaheim, and much newer ones to the south like Mission Viejo and San Juan Capistrano, cannot deny the evidence. Current estimates have nearly 17,000 young people belonging to 275 gangs, and gang activity is reported in nearly every one of Orange County’s 31 cities.
Further, state Justice Department records show that Orange County’s gang-related murders this year to date represent a 40% increase over last year. The killings are up hundreds of percentage points in the county since 1988. And in Santa Ana, gang slaughter has reached dizzying proportions; the current rate of 14.3 residents per 100,000 being killed by gangs is more than twice the current rate in Los Angeles County.
While there is more awareness today than in the past and efforts at the county and local levels to combat the problem have increased, there is a need to better coordinate ideas and strategies.
Whatever comes of today’s meeting in the long term, the gathering will be important for the commitment it demonstrates. County and local leaders and area law-enforcement agencies are sending a strong signal of their intention to tackle a problem head-on that increasingly threatens the social fabric.