LAGUNA HILLS : Council Delays Vote on Anti-Gang Program

Concerned that Laguna Hills is paying for more than it's getting, the City Council this week postponed a decision on whether to continue participating in the South County Gang Suppression program.

Council member Melody Carruth said she is concerned that Laguna Hills pays the same as cities that have far greater gang problems.

"This is the time to send a message to other cities that [the South County Gang Suppression program] ought to be restructured to be effective," Carruth said. "If we continue year after year to write a check for $18,000, we are not going to see any changes."

The program involves the county Probation and Sheriff's departments and local schools sharing information about gangs.

Other participants include Dana Point, Laguna Niguel and San Juan Capistrano. Costs are divided evenly among the cities. Laguna Hills paid $17,930 last year.

Lake Forest and Mission Viejo are partners in a similar anti-gangs effort.

Although council members said they would ultimately support the program, city officials will be assessing costs and law enforcement priorities during the next two weeks.

Sheriffs' Lt. Tom McCarthy, chief of police services in Laguna Hills, said it was unlikely that changes could be negotiated in the contract in two weeks.

Other council members supported delaying the vote, but indicated they would approve Laguna Hills' participation in the program at the council's June 26 meeting.

Council member Cynthia Greengold said she wants "to see the equity issue pushed forward, but I don't want to hold up this contract."

Councilman Randal J. Bressette praised the program, saying, "This is one of our tools against violence . . . gangs aren't necessarily jurisdictional. To the extent that we can spend $18,000 out of a $10-million budget, I support it."

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