Orange County gang activity dropped more than 10% from 1994 to 1997, with significant decreases in carjacking and auto theft but a slight rise in the proportion of violent crimes, according to the annual gang study released Monday.
The Gang Incident Tracking System Study, or GITS, sponsored by the Orange County Police Chiefs and Sheriff's Assn. and a UCI research group, compiled individual incident reports from each of Orange County's 22 police agencies and found a total reduction of 10.4% from 3,600 incidents in 1994 to 3,227 in 1997.
"We seem to be getting ahead and making some progress," Westminster Police Chief James Cook said. "You can't really combat gangs without knowing whether their activity is increasing or decreasing or how effective your programs are."
The statistics are used to rate the success of projects such as TARGET, which joins police, probation officers and prosecutors to remove most frequent gang offenders from the streets.
Among some of this year's findings were a decrease in gang-related homicides, weapons violations and burglaries. More than half of the offenders in all four years were adults, the study found.
Cook credited better car alarm systems and the recently initiated Orange County Auto Theft Program, headed by the district attorney's office, for the drop in the number of stolen cars.
The study also showed an increase in the number of victims who were not members of gangs, more robberies and more assaults on police officers, as well as a higher proportion of violent incidents than in years past. UCI officials attributed the increase in officer assaults to a change in the data-collecting system.
"There's a stubborn violent trend among young people that you'll see in the report, a group of individuals that are consistently committing a lot of crime countywide and who are getting more violent," Cook said.
"GITS itself is a strategy," said Capt. Dan McCoy of the Santa Ana Police Department. "It gives you data to operate from. You can always make certain assumptions, but when you have actual information, it brings to life how particular moves can or cannot work."
McCoy cited Santa Ana's Street Terrorist Offender Program, or STOP, as a program guided by GITS data.
The program, which began as a cooperative effort between law enforcement agencies in 1993, got assistance from UCI after the Orange County bankruptcy in 1994 threatened to limit the program's polling abilities. In 1996, it got several grants to continue operating.
"One of the reasons we got the grant is that Orange County was so unique in its ability to track crime," said James Meeker, project director of the UCI Focused Research Group.
Cook fears, however, that without proper funding, the program may have to be shut down.
"We've been hunting for money to extend the program, trying to get enough money to last us at least through the rest of this year," he said. "We may have to shut this program down, and if we do, we will lose the most valuable scientific measurement for all of Orange County."
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Gang Crime Declining
Gang-related crimes in Orange County dropped 10% from 1994 to 1997, although there were major increases in robberies and assaults on police officers. Gang members arrested continue to be mostly adults.
Total Gang Incidents
1994 1995 1996 1997 Homicide 67 66 45 29 Robbery 519 426 764 748 Carjacking 48 47 28 18 Felonious assault 542 585 516 359 Assault/battery* 33 18 101 103 Auto theft 169 122 83 72 Burglary 316 299 146 131 Weapons violations 542 545 523 378
Arrests 1994 1995 1996 1997 Adults 768 727 739 603 Juveniles 732 664 622 526
* On a police officer
Source: Orange County Chiefs' and Sheriff's Assn., UCI Focused Research Group on Orange County Street Gangs; Researched by VALERIE BURGHER / Los Angeles Times