The South Coast’s newly appointed gang czar, Dr. Gus Frias, is now making the rounds, getting to know many of the major players — individuals, nonprofit organizations, and government entities — dealing with gangs and gang violence between Carpinteria and Goleta. “To be effective in Santa Barbara, you can’t come in and know all the answers,” said Fran Forman of the Community Action Commission, with whom he’ll share offices. “Probably the worst thing you could do is come in and say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do.’”
To that end, Frias is reportedly engaged in a serious listening campaign to determine what all the different groups and organizations are currently doing about gang violence and how they might better coordinate their efforts. Until recently, he was working for the Los Angeles County Office of Education on school safety and anti-gang programs. A native of East Los Angeles, Frias never joined a gang himself but lost close friends to gang violence. Armed with advanced degrees in education from Harvard and USC, Forman said he’s got the pedigree to work in establishment circles. But, she added, he has already demonstrated an ability to connect with the families of gang members and at-risk youth. His focus, she said, will be to persuade groups “who have had no real reason to talk to one another” in the past to start talking, and working, with each other. The focus will be targeting people on the verge of getting involved with gangs and devising intervention strategies to make them think twice.
Law enforcement officials estimate there are roughly 150-200 actual gang members on the South Coast and anywhere from 500-800 teens deemed at-risk. Frias was one of 80 people who applied for the post — created by all the government entities on the South Coast with some help from nonprofits — and one of 10 to be interviewed. Ultimately, he was selected by two 10-member screening committees. Frias will be paid a salary of $100,000 a year, plus benefits. The decision to hire him stemmed out of the lengthy, and frequently interrupted, public discussion about gang violence that started three years ago after a 14-year-old stabbed a 15-year-old to death during a gang rumble on State Street next to Saks Fifth Avenue.