Keeping kids off the streets and out of gangs got a big boost Friday. Three local cities, San Diego, Chula Vista and Oceanside, were awarded state grants to continue their gang-prevention programs. In tight budget times, the money is a godsend, because this is about prevention, not suppression.
Three years ago, a major announcement was made that local authorities would be focusing on gang crime, making it their priority to help prevent future growth of them in San Diego.
Three years later, gang crime, including homicides and assaults is down significantly in all parts of the city, particularly in the specifically targeted areas of central and southeast San Diego. But officials also knew that long term, suppression wasn't the answer.
The key was intervention and prevention, getting to the impressionable or disadvantaged young person before he or she is recruited into a gang.
Two years ago, San Diego got a nearly 400-thousand dollar grant from the state toward that very effort. Part of the money went to keeping teen centers in gang-plagued neighborhoods open on Friday nights, rather than closing at 6pm or 7pm. Friday, the city was awarded a similar grant along with Chula Vista and Oceanside.
What's more, the money will allow an expansion of such programs into Encanto and City Heights.
This teen centers offer programs which feature everything from homework help to movies to arts and crafts and softball games with police officers. They provide a safe place where at-risk youth can make friends with people who have their best interest at heart.
Specifically, the grants were each 369-thousand dollars. Everybody involved in Friday's announcement says the programs work only because of the partnership between police, city agencies and community organizations.