New Unit Imprisions 400-plus members
Joe Nelson, SB Sun Staff Writer
The District Attorney's Office has put more than 400 gang members in prison and racked up 21 convictions from jury trials since launching its gang unit last year, according to statistics released Tuesday.
From July 1, 2005, to June 30, county prosecutors filed 1,012 gang cases through the courts. The 419 prison sentences that resulted from those filings totaled 2,272 years behind bars, according to numbers provided by the District Attorney's Office.
"As you can see, we're very busy," District Attorney Michael A. Ramos said.
In addition, the number of gang enhancements found true was 132. Gang enhancements allege that crimes perpetrated by suspects were committed in the name of or to benefit street gangs, and can result in additional years behind bars for defendants.
With an estimated 16,000 gang members living in San Bernardino County and the number of gang-related homicides, robberies and other violent crimes escalating at an alarming rate, Ramos launched the gang unit in March 2005. Since then, 15 prosecutors have been assigned to handle gang-crime cases, and one more is coming, Ramos said.
Of the 15 specially trained gang prosecutors, five have been assigned to the San Bernardino office, three to the Rancho Cucamonga office, three to the Fontana office, two to the juvenile division and two to the Victorville office, Ramos said.
With the rising number of gang members migrating to the High Desert in recent years and a staggering number of gang-related crimes occurring there, Ramos said he plans to add the new prosecutor to the Victorville office.
"When I took office, we didn't have one specially trained gang prosecutor in the desert," Ramos said, adding he will continue assigning additional gang prosecutors to offices around the county as the need arises.
The additional training for prosecutors has made a difference, said Sgt. Galen Bohner with the sheriff's High Desert gang-enforcement team.
"Before, (prosecutors) wouldn't necessarily use the gang enhancements. Now they know they can use them," he said.
The effort is extremely important to the High Desert communities that have seen a influx of gang members, Bohner said.
"There's tons of them coming up here," he said. "The cost of living is a major draw for them.
Although the San Bernardino Valley has long been plagued by gang crime, the Nov. 13 fatal shooting of 11-year-old Mynisha Crenshaw in San Bernardino reignited concerns about the scope of the gang problem and created community outcry demanding something be done.
Mynisha, an unintended target, was killed in what authorities described as an act of retribution by a Crips affiliate gang for the fatal shooting of one of their members three days earlier at a neighboring apartment complex. The perpetrators believed members of the rival gang were associating at the apartment unit Mynisha and her family were in, authorities say.
Ramos said he's seen improvement since the launching of the gang unit.
"I think we've taken down a lot of the leaders of the gangs, some of those who were running the local gang system," Ramos said.
He said a major focus this year and next will be on juvenile offenders because many gang crimes involve teenagers.
"That tells me there is no leadership, and the gangs are fighting over territory," Ramos said, adding that prosecutors will continue working with the Sheriff's Department to figure out how best to tackle the juvenile gang issue.
"It's a vicious cycle," said Ramos, "A lot of it starts with lack of family and household."
In May 2005, the Board of Supervisors approved $4.8 million for its gang initiative. The money funded 48 new positions in the Sheriff's Department, the District Attorney's Office, the Public Defender's Office and the Probation Department. Of that $4.8 million, the District Attorney's Office received about $1.5 million.
Ramos receives statistics from his gang prosecutors every quarter that help him gauge the need for resources. The numbers tell him that there is a long way to go before law enforcement can really get its arms around the gang problem.
"It's going to take some time, but we're moving in the right direction, and I'll be going back to the board to ask them for more resources, including investigators," Ramos said, adding he plans to make that proposal for the next budget year.
Ramos also hopes to obtain about $500,000 from a state grant that will allow him to hire three more prosecutors, one of whom he plans to assign to the gang unit in Victorville. He said he will also continue seeking out additional funds from the federal government.
"Hopefully in a year or two, I can tell you the gang members have been reduced enough to where I can release some of these prosecutors to work in other departments," he said. "But right now this is a priority."