Anonymous members of the Eastside gang, one of two gangs in the City of Santa Barbara. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

A Grand Jury report on Santa Barbara County youth gang crime found, among other things, that students in middle schools and elementary schools are increasingly recruited into gangs; the number of programs available to at-risk youth, including those offered through the Santa Barbara County Probation Department, is declining; and no comprehensive database exists for law enforcement agencies to identify gangs and gang membership.

There are no fewer than 18 gangs spread throughout Santa Barbara County, the Grand Jury found ― two in Santa Barbara, three in Goleta and Isla Vista, three in Lompoc, two that have ties to Lompoc and Santa Maria, and eight in Santa Maria. Lompoc police, who are struggling with the biggest recent rise in serious gang activity, including assaults and murder, estimated there are approximately 600 members or associates in their city. The department’s radio system is so out of date, the Jury found, that gangs can easily eavesdrop on officer communications.

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Moreover, the Jury discovered that the Sheriff’s Office disbanded its gang unit in 2017. It recommended that the department fund a new task force within the next budget cycle and that the county’s multiple law enforcement agencies better collaborate on prevention efforts. It also suggested that the county’s superintendent of education assist elementary and middle schools in instituting and renewing programs that dissuade students from joining gangs.

The Independent reported in March, the Jury noted, that since 2016 there has been a 41 percent rise in weapons-related suspensions at schools, a 32 percent rise in bullying and harassment cases, and a 26 percent increase in the number of suspensions for drug- and alcohol-related offenses. Administrators are also reporting a growing number of gang-related incidents out in the community leading to confrontations on campus.

A California School Climate, Health, and Learning Survey conducted last year revealed that only 62 percent of Santa Barbara 11th graders felt “safe or very safe” on campus. In Lompoc, the figure was 43 percent.

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