County Proposed Budget Cuts Include the Elimination of the Yolo County Gang Task Force

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gang-stockFor the second consecutive year, Yolo County is having to cut 20 million dollars from its general fund budget.  This is going to take a huge toll as we will discuss later on the vital county services.  It will also result in cutbacks to law enforcement.

Some of the proposed cuts will include the closure of the Walter J. Leinberger Minimum security facility which would result in the immediate release of 140 felons into the community (though it should be noted these are felons housed in a minimum security facility).

It will also result in several changes to county law enforcement efforts.  They will reduce patrols and eliminate the 24/7 road patrol.  This means the county sheriff’s department will only respond to in-progress calls.  They will also reduce follow-up investigations.

They will eliminate the school attendance review board deputy (SARB), this has been a vital part of their anti-truancy program.  Some will recall the concerns over the rise of truancy at Davis High.  Obviously this budget cut will lead to changes in terms of how this is approached.

The county will also eliminate a YONET Deputy, this is part of Yolo Narcotics Enforcement Team that is a multijurisdictional effort to interdict and otherwise enforcement drug laws in the county.

Finally the county will eliminate two gang deputies and the entire gang task force.  The total savings from these cuts (not including Leinberger) is $1.2 million.

Yolo County Gang Problem

The Yolo County District Attorney’s Office, in conjunction with the police departments in Davis, West Sacramento, Winters, and Woodland, as well as the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department, have had joint operations and cooperation in combating criminal street gangs in the form of a county-wide task force. Criminal activity by street gangs is not bound by municipal borders.

Proponents have argued that by

“sharing intelligence and personnel, the Gang Task Force is able to effectively identify these organized criminal elements and their members, and to respond quickly when they engage in criminal activity. Proactive law enforcement and vigorous prosecution help to reduce future criminality. Staying on top of organized crime will diminish violence and drug sales in the communities of Yolo County.”

Moreover,

“Youth gangs are a serious problem throughout the nation, threatening public safety and damaging young lives not only in large urban areas but also in many smaller cities and rural areas. These gangs can be the most visible cause and the most visible result of extreme social and economic distress in disadvantaged neighborhoods.”

The Yolo County Gang Task Force, a creation of District Attorney Jeff Reisig is part of the cornerstone of his crime fighting efforts.  In a recent Sacramento Bee article, the DA argued that there are 1600 gang members in Yolo County.

Talk to the old-timers who were here, and they’ll tell you they remember the day when they would see a few people here and there wearing colors.  Now it’s just exploded. The way I see the issue, I have a mandate to aggressively go after gangs. In my opinion, they are the single biggest threat to public safety in Yolo County.”

According to the Bee,

Reisig said he faces a gang problem responsible for “thousands” of violent felonies over the past decade, including the shooting deaths of two law enforcement officers. Reisig also blames gang-banging drug dealers for bringing in the dope for Yolo County’s users.

“You’ve got all these serious violent felonies, you’ve got dead cops, you’ve got drugs on the street, and it’s all tied to criminal street gangs,” he said.

Yolo County Supervisor Matt Rexroad said the gang problem “absolutely, positively shapes every aspect of law enforcement” in the jurisdiction

However, not everyone agrees with his assessment.  Former Public Defender Barry Melton believes that the 1600 gang member number is “way overblown” and that the problem has been “seriously overhyped.”

He told the Sacramento Bee,

“I seriously doubt the number’s that big.  How do you make the determination? If I live on the block and my neighbor’s a gang member and I go have a beer with him, am I affiliated? The thought is that everything they do is in furtherance of what the gang is doing, and of course that is not true.”

Controversy – Gutierrez Shooting

The gang task force operating in Woodland was at the center of one of the most controversial incidents we have faced in recent years, the shooting of Luis Gutierrez.

The Vanguard and other civil rights groups have called for a full independent investigation.  We have criticized the existing report from the District Attorney’s office as incomplete and biased.

Moreover, we would argue that given the known facts of this incident, this may likely have been racial profiling.

In this case, we have a street encounter in the middle of the day.  Mr. Gutierrez (referred to as Luis Gutierrez Navarro in the official report) was guilty of simply being an Hispanic male walking down the street in Woodland, he was not even wearing gang clothing. 

Deputy Oviedo one of the officers with the gang task force involved in the incident admitted, “There was nothing unusual about the person that attracted their attention.”

So why was he stopped? The report tells us, “Deputy Bautista thought Navarro looked familiar and might be on probation or parole. Deputy Oviedo thought Navarro looked familiar but was not sure of Navarro’s identity. Sgt. Johnson did not know Navarro.” However, it is unclear where they would have known him from as he had no previous reported contacts with any of them.

He was not wearing gang clothing according to the statements by officers.  We do have a strange statement however from Sgt. Johnson:

“Hispanic gang members will often not openly wear their gang colors. Instead, the gang member will wear generic colors to disguise their particular affiliation.”

I think that is a very telling statement.  It means that Hispanics are in a no win situation where gang clothing means they are gang members but non-gang clothing might mean they are trying to disguise it.

So what Mr. Gutierrez pulled over only because he was Hispanic?  This is tricky to prove because they have the defense that they thought he looked familiar–but they could say that about anyone.

I have heard the explanation from law enforcement that they were not racial profiling, they were gang profiling.  The problem with that explanation is that gang profiling involves race, gender, and probably age.  Being an Hispanic male in his twenties is taken as prima facie evidence of gang involvement with or without gang clothing or tattoos.

The coroner’s report says he has tattoos, the family denies that he had tattoos interestingly enough and the police officers admit they never say his hands or any tattoos.  “Deputy Bautista did not notice or see Navarro’s hands.” 

To this point we have not seen an independent analysis of the events that occurred and led to the shooting of young Mr. Gutierrez.  As we have noted, the Attorney General’s office review was very limited.

“We reviewed your decision under an abuse of discretion standard. After a complete review of all available information, we have concluded that your decision was not unreasonable and thus did not constitute an abuse of discretion.”

As we have explained, an abuse of discretion is an extremely high threshold to reach.

The notion of abuse of discretion is a legal term that means “A failure to take into proper consideration the facts and law relating to a particular matter; an Arbitrary or unreasonable departure from precedent and settled judicial custom.”

This is generally used in appellant law.  “Where a trial court must exercise discretion in deciding a question, it must do so in a way that is not clearly against logic and the evidence. An improvident exercise of discretion is an error of law and grounds for reversing a decision on appeal.”

But all that really occurs here is a review of the investigation itself to determine if the ruling is reasonable based on the facts presented.

Thus in reviewing for abuse of discretion, there would be a problem if “the rendering of a decision by a court… is so unreasonable in light of the facts of the case or is such an unreasonable deviation from legal precedent that it must be reversed.”

Anything that falls short of that, ends up where this one did.

What the AG’s office did not do that people have called upon an independent body to do is conduct their own investigation, interview the officers and witnesses themselves, review the evidence, and produce their own unique report.

That is what I am calling for and what the justice community is calling for.

From a public policy perspective, if the county had to cut a program or department, this was one that probably is most helpful.  It is unclear what the gang task force can accomplish that local law enforcement cannot.  The Gang Injunction in West Sacramento and Gang Task Force Activity in Woodland have triggered a good deal of controversy and animosity in the Latino Community.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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9 thoughts on “County Proposed Budget Cuts Include the Elimination of the Yolo County Gang Task Force”

  1. 3doorsdown

    The Yolo County Sheriff department were added to the current “gang task force” less than a year ago. Each of the city police department mentioned have their own operating task force. So the elimination of that department would not cause devistation to the force. It’s unfortunate that we are facing this issue but, we are losing many programs in our county.

    As far as the release of the inmates at the minimum security facility goes, if these folks warrant a trip to prison than send them. If we do not have the ability to house them in minimum security than it is not an option. Minimum security housing has been a luxury that we can no longer afford. We will have 2 choices, Monroe or prison.

    Last night channel 13 ran a piece about the early release of inmates and cited the release of a man that attempted rape. The fact is that HE was released in error and did not attempt the rape after his release but was being held because it was a crime he had already committed. I understand that there are questions being raised regarding releasing county offenders at all which is to be determined. However, having the Sheriff department sue the county over this issue is ridiculous. We must not become hysterical. It is the medias job to sensationalize news accounts or they will have fewer viewers. Let’s keep our feet on the ground and deal with the facts. On a lighter note, any chance we can put them all on a boat and send them to Cuba, they do have socialized health care . . .

  2. Sharla Cheney

    David,

    The elimination of the School Attendance Review Board (SARB) will not impact Davis. Two years ago, Davis opted out of using that system and created a comprehensive plan to address truancy. The plan involves intervention by teachers, counselors, school and district administration, the Davis Police (Youth Services), and, eventually, the DAs Office and Yolo County Court. CPS and other community resources are used when needed. This alternative plan is allowed for in the Welfare & Institutions Codes addressing truancy.

    What will have a greater impact on efforts to reduce truancy is the elimination of counselors in the school district.

    Truancy is sometimes the first indicator of a child in trouble – real trouble that is not of their own design.

  3. Bystander

    Our family recently had a problem with gangs at Woodland High. A member of the family (a Freshman) was selected for a fight. They wrote on his locker that they hated white boys. The gang had him surrounded when a security guard saw what was happening and yanked the boy from the circle that was surrounded by the gang. The white boy was suspended, unbelievable! After a visit to the principal’s office by the parents, they were told by the principal that they were not aware of gangs at Woodland High. Our family is very nervous about this situation.

  4. jimt

    Hello all,

    Seems to me the argument that gang crime is not a serious issue in Yolo testifies to the effectiveness of the Gang Task Force and other Law Enforcement measures in keeping a lid on it.

    I concur with DA Jeff Reisig’s statement, having lived in low income areas of Yolo for a decade.
    Kudos to Reisig and others in the Law Enforcement community who have made gang suppression a top priority.

    Hopefully the felons to be released from the miniumum security facility are non-violent?
    I am all in favor of reducing sentences for non-violent convicts; to cut costs & maybe require community service instead. But keep the violent ones locked up!

    Mr. Greenwald, I think you and others who share your stated views should be aware that you are walking a fine line between preventing abuse by Law Enforcement, and helping to enable crime. How much of one do you think happens as a consequence of your media soapbox and legal work, and how much of the other? I submit it is a genuinely tricky balance; and that its nearly impossible not to err in one direction or the other. During this time of limited monetary resources, I suggest public patience for tolerating thuggish, uncivil, and irresponsible behavior is getting more limited; and support for cracking down is rising. Hopefully we can keep big mistakes at a low level (impossible to eliminate them entirely); I trust that Reisig’s office is acting in good faith to do so. I think we should err on the side of the Law Enforcement community, and not on the side of those that are disposed toward criminal activity.

  5. 3doorsdown

    Bystander I’m hoping that you are monitoring this article. Your comment suggested you are uncertain where to go from here and may be looking for suggestions. Unfortunately, it does not matter what city you live in the scenario you are describing is happening everywhere, and is not limited to gang activity. High school is such a difficult time in one’s life. I have a few words of advice but first I would like to clarify that you are not insinuating because the principle at Woodland High School is Hispanic that she is purposefully being ignorant of any gang issues on her campus.

    When an administrator addresses the matter of gang activity they are limited to provable fact. That would mean the presence of “Registered” gang member/members, so her statement may be true to her knowledge. Anything other than that is suspicion. Let me remind you that there are gangs of all races including Caucasians. To make the situation that you and your family are experiencing strictly about race is to minimize the seriousness.

    Here are a few suggestions that I would like to make. Although some would like the community to believe that the “Gang Task Force” is being shut down the FACT is that only the County Sheriff department is being considered for cuts. There will continue to be “Gang Tasks Force” in each city. You mentioned Woodland High so I recommend that you or your family contact a member of the task force at Woodland Police department to discuss the situation. Ask that they make contact with the “main” 1 or 2 youths involved, and that they assure those individuals that if there be any sort of attack of your family member their involvement would be enough to prosecute and order they become “Registered” gang members. The consequences of registration include gang enhancements to any and all crimes they may become involved in for the rest of their lives. Making contact also brings the family (i.e. parents, aunts, uncles) into the situation there may be at least 1 family member that will understand the seriousness and work to prevent that from happening. Good luck to you and your family. Make use of the resources that are available.

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