Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Community Spirit is Thriving in Vallejo

Most of us living in Vallejo know that the economy is hurting our neighborhoods and quality of life, as it is in so many cities across our nation. Property crimes are on the rise, along with graffiti, drug dealing and prostitution.

But it’s not all bad news. Vallejo citizens are standing up for our city and forming extremely successful neighborhood watch groups. Last year, Vallejo had ten neighborhood watch groups – today, we have 100 groups with over 1,500 active and involved neighbors.

The key is that neighborhoods with neighborhood watch groups are seeing a decrease in property crimes. In addition, neighbors who had never talked before are meeting and socializing and watching out for each other. We are building a new sense of community neighborhood by neighborhood.

I had an experience recently where I got an email from one of my neighbors who had seen a group of young teens hanging around in front of my house. A couple of them walked up to the front door and were knocking. She drove by the house, turned around, and drove by again, watching them. When they saw her drive by again, one of them said, “Let’s go!” and they all left. Neighborhood watch works.

Tonight Fighting Back Partnership hosted a citywide neighborhood watch meeting. Eighty-five people attended and watched in an excellent presentation on gang activity by Detectives Jason Potts and Fabio Rodriguez of the Vallejo Police Department.

They detailed in a PowerPoint presentation the main gangs operating in Vallejo, provided a bit of their history, what they look like (tattoos, gang tags, signs, colors they wear), and a bit on how and why they operate. They showed us what the various graffiti tags meant and what the tags are communicating all over our city. Just through graffiti tagging, the gangs are communicating specific messages with themselves and other gangs.

I paint out graffiti once a month along with twenty or so dedicated volunteers, Fighting Back and the City, and we have painted out many of these gang tags that I saw on the PowerPoint. It’s chilling to realize the messages behind what we paint out every month, and illustrated the importance of cutting off this illegal form of gang communication.

According to Detective Potts, the gangs’ main currency is fear and respect – they do things to gain the respect of their fellow gang members, and they do things to instill fear in a community and in other gangs. The more fear they instill, the more respect they get and the more they profit from their illegal activities.

The key to fighting crime in our neighborhoods, Detective Potts said, is for neighbors to join together and not be fearful. When we see something happen, call the Police Department. If things are happening in your neighborhood on a continual basis, keep calling. Again and again if you have to. They are getting the messages and are addressing them as soon as they can. As Detective Potts said, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. One resident told her story of working with the PD to get squatters and drug dealers out of an abandoned home on her street. Granted, she had to be that squeaky wheel and kept calling continuously until she got their attention. But her persistence and making her presence known to the squatters paid off, and the squatters are gone. So if you see criminal activity in your neighborhood and it is a non-emergency, call and report it at 707/644-STOP (7867). Of course, if it’s an emergency, call 9-1-1.

Finally, Fighting Back announced tonight that they’re working on a new anti-prostitution program using the neighborhood watch program in collaboration with other non-profit organizations and the Solano County Probation Department. The idea will be to have neighborhood watch members wearing identifiable t-shirts forming a preventative presence on the street. The prostitutes don’t want to operate in areas where they’re being watched, so the idea is to make Vallejo an unwelcome place for prostitutes and the Johns that prey on them.

Several members of the community spoke passionately about getting involved in Vallejo and taking a stand against gangs and taking back their neighborhoods. It was inspiring and energizing and reaffirming – Vallejo is a wonderful city, and we the people of Vallejo love our city, and we won’t back down to criminals.

For more information on the Neighborhood Watch, Anti-Prostitution or Vallejo Anti-Graffiti Program, call Fighting Back Partnership at 707/648-5230. We paint out graffiti the third Saturday of every month – come join us, we have a lot of fun!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Violence: A Community's Problem

Along with many people this week, I watched in horror as the brutal attack of Harold Cabral, one of our City of Vallejo public works employees, unfolded on video clips released by the Vallejo Police Department. It was sickening to watch and horrifying to see that people – especially kids – could act with such callous, senseless brutality. It’s just haunting.

My heart goes out to Mr. Cabral and his family, and I wish him a speedy recovery. I’m happy to see employee groups, other organizations and individuals coming together to donate money towards the reward fund to find and prosecute the perpetrators of this terrible crime. I know some of my fellow councilmembers feel the same, and we will be contributing to this fund ourselves. I sincerely hope that every single person who participated in this cruel attack is punished to the fullest extent of the law.

I know that I’m not the only one who is shocked, outraged and disappointed by this violence. People need to express these feelings, and I’m getting a lot of emails and phone calls from people doing just that. I’ve done the same. But I do hope that we can move those feelings into an acknowledgement of our problems, and an active generation of ideas on how to address them.

Unfortunately, I’m also seeing a lot of finger pointing: not enough police officers, too high of employee salaries, poor city management, bad police department management, absent parents/single parents, a deteriorating school system, a poor economy, bankruptcy, poverty, racism, hatred and anger.

We’ve got to stop the finger pointing. We’ve got to come together as a community to stop this kind of violence. We need to give our kids something to do after school and during the summer. We need to help teach them respect for people and life. Our children are missing a very large part of their “citizenship education” as they’re growing up. Whatever the cause – be it poverty, reduced educational opportunities, less parental participation – this is our problem. Vallejo’s problem. Society’s problem.

I’d like to bring together a small group of community and business leaders to create an action plan on how we as a community can start to address the issues of youth violence and personal responsibility. We need to begin a dialogue with our youth – and not just the kids who are already tuned in, but kids who are tuned out, too. We need to create a city youth commission, to give kids a say in what happens in their city government and their community. And we need the Police Chief to give this community some creative solutions on how the Police Department can help us address some of Vallejo’s most pressing crime problems using the resources that we have.

The time for excuses is over. Let’s get to work.

If you have any constructive ideas, please send me an email at sgomes@ci.vallejo.ca.us.

Information on this crime can be provided to the Vallejo Police Department at (800) 488-9383, 24 hours a day. Also, the Solano Crime Stoppers™ tip line (644-STOP) is a anonymous tip line that offers cash rewards for phone tips that solve violent and/or serious crimes committed in the greater Vallejo area.

If you want to contribute to the reward being offered to anyone providing information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators of this crime, contact Sergeant Kevin Bartlett at 707/651-7145.