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Oxnard Renews Crackdown on Gang Violence

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With two teenagers dead of gang gunfire in five days, city police and officials are scrambling to bring peace back to Oxnard’s streets.

Police announced Tuesday that within days their hard-nosed gang task force soon will be brought back and strengthened, and the city’s homicide unit will be beefed up with extra detectives working extra shifts.

And tonight the City Council will meet in an emergency session to discuss Oxnard’s frightening spate of violence.

“We can’t tolerate this any longer,” Councilman Andres Herrera said.

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Oxnard has witnessed five homicides in just four weeks.

* On New Year’s Day, Jesus Silva Onofre, 22, and Manuel Encarncion, 28, were found dead of gunshot wounds to their heads in Durley Park. Police are unsure of the motive, but haven’t ruled out gang involvement.

* Last Thursday, Felipe Hernandez, 16, was gunned down by gang members at the Centerpoint Mall.

* On Monday, Luis Magana, 15, died in a hail of gunfire when gang members ambushed the car he was riding in.

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* Earlier that same day, police found the body of J. Bert Deck, 32, in a roadside ditch with a bullet hole in his bludgeoned head.

“People are getting killed almost every day it seems,” said Vicky Gonzales, president of La Colonia Neighborhood Council. “I’m really afraid for the youth out there.”

Danisha Riley, a junior at Oxnard High School, said she worries about getting caught in the cross-fire of the escalating violence.

“I am scared,” she said. “It might be me one day. Bullets don’t have a name.”

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Police maintain that the rash of violence is unrelated and coincidental.

“We are just as perplexed and concerned as the community as to why we’ve had five homicides in one month,” Assistant Police Chief Tom Cady said. Oxnard recorded 11 homicides for all of 1995.

Police have arrested a suspect in only one of January’s killings: Douglas E. Wickham, 46, of Oxnard was booked into County Jail Tuesday afternoon on suspicion of killing Deck.

Detectives said they were discouraged when a witness to the Magana shooting was unable to identify possible suspects in a photo lineup. Beyond that, detectives say they have little to go on, other than asking anyone who witnessed the shooting to call in with information.

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The revived gang unit--which targets known gang members for any possible violations--will have 12 officers at its disposal, enough to keep it operating seven days a week. Detectives will accelerate their investigation with extra shifts and officers until the homicides are solved or every lead is exhausted, officials said.

At tonight’s meeting, the police chief is expected to offer additional suggestions and request money for the beefed-up policing programs.

But community groups worry that additional policing is only a superficial solution.

More parental involvement, recreation opportunities and role models are needed to keep kids out of trouble, they say.

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“It’s not just about more cops,” said Ricardo Melendez, an educator with El Concilio del Condado de Ventura, a Latino community group in Oxnard. “The community needs to take responsibility for the garbage that is happening out there. We have to address the fundamental problems, . . . [otherwise] the gang shootings will continue.”

Oxnard’s youth need parents who give them hope, said Oscar Z. Gonzalez, spokesman for the Mexican-American Bar Assn. in Oxnard.

“Police can wash away the blood . . . but you can’t expect them to imbue our kids with aspirations. It’s not their job.”

Bill Studt, superintendent of the Oxnard Union High School District, recommends offering students more activities after schools. But right now, there is no money for keeping gyms open late or on weekends, he said.

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“We need to stem the tide,” Studt said. “I don’t know how many more shootings we can stand in the city.”

FYI

The Oxnard City Council will hold a special meeting on youth violence tonight at 9 at City Hall, 305 W. 3rd St. The public is invited, although part of the session will be closed.


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