Most residents agree: gang crime is down

September 28, 2000

Deepa Bharath

COSTA MESA -- City neighborhoods known to be infested by gangs a few

years ago seem quieter now, residents said Wednesday.

Gang-related incidents are visibly dwindling on the city's West Side

and the Shalimar Drive area, where the problem of gang members dealing

drugs and vandalizing public and private property once was commonplace,

they said.


Last week, the Costa Mesa Police Department reported that gang-related

crime here has dropped by more than half this year, and by 65% compared

to statistics from two years ago.

The report took into account the first five months of each year and

included all types of incidents, including assaults, driving under the

influence of drugs or alcohol, weapon violations and vandalism.

Oscar Santoyo, director of Save Our Youth, said that when he drives

through the West Side now, he is reminded of how things were when he grew

up in the 1960s and '70s.

"I noticed a different tone in that community that is good," he said.

"Kids were out playing. Adults were leaning over the fence talking. It's

nice to see that again in that area."

The atmosphere in the same neighborhood was much more tense and

hostile a year ago, and he did see gangs out and about, Santoyo said.

The same is true of the Shalimar Drive neighborhood, said Maria

Alvarez, who helped found the Shalimar Learning Center in 1994. The

center shut down recently after parents and children protested the firing

of Alvarez, though center officials are planning on reopening it.

"I feel a little more safe walking down the street," said Alvarez, who

has lived in the area for 25 years. "I still hear people complaining

about drug deals and prostitution, but I think it's reduced over the last

few years."

The key, said Alvarez, is to give the kids something positive to do as

an alternative to joining gangs.

Despite the falling crime rate, some residents said the city and the

police department still have work to do in reducing crime.

West Side resident Tom Egan said he can still feel the effects of the

crime that occurs around him.

"I still see graffiti on the walls," he said. "My car was vandalized

recently. I can see the numbers are going down. But I don't feel any

safer than I did before."

The police department is trying harder than ever to make neighborhoods

safer, said Sgt. Clay Epperson, a gang detail officer with the Costa Mesa

Police Department.

The department last week restarted its bicycle patrol program,

assigning two full-time officers to it five days a week, he said.

"That would help us have a closer contact with the community," he

said. "It'll also help us have a strong presence and hopefully keep bad

elements away from our neighborhoods."



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