Barney Melekian | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

The Santa Barbara City Council received a report on youth violence Tuesday after two local shootings earlier this year that left behind several young victims.

“This year has been a tragic one in terms of the impact of violence on young people,” Police Chief Bernard Melekian said. “For a long time, law enforcement saw its role solely as to solve the crime and arrest the perpetrators. It is very clear that this is no longer enough.” 

Melekian pointed to the January Liberty Street shooting that left a 17-year-old and 18-year-old dead, and the March shooting on Eucalyptus Hill Road where a 24-year-old was killed. 

He said that it takes more than just the police to stop incidents like these. There are three parts: prevention, intervention, and enforcement. He was joined by community partners who are doing the intervention and prevention pieces, while police do the enforcement work. 

Melekian first introduced Ricardo Venegas from the City Parks Department to talk about his department’s efforts toward youth violence. Venegas shared that it has a job apprentice program to keep youth busy and out of trouble, and that more than 240 apprentices have been hired by the city through the job apprentice program. He also said they have an arts alliance program that has served over 800 local youth.

Santa Barbara Unified Superintendent Hilda Maldonado also presented to the council. She talked about the “ABCs” she is focused on: academics, belonging, and connection. She gave the overplacement of Latino children in special education as a major example of problems in the district’s academics. She talked about how crucial it has been to get kids back in school so they can experience belonging and connection, her other focuses. During the pandemic, social isolation contributes not just to student well-being but also to youth violence.

Saul Serrano with South Coast Youth Safety Partnership talked about how his coordinating body works in intervening with youth violence. He said after the January Liberty Street shooting, the community engagement team met weekly and did a call to action to community partners to reach out to their students and alumni to gauge grief levels and coordinate and connect them to services.

Finally, Isis Castañeda from the Santa Barbara County Teen Network gave the council a glimpse into its work around youth violence prevention. Castañeda said her organization is in preliminary discussions with the Bucket Brigade about collaborating and providing gardening boxes for the youth at St. George Youth Center. She also said they are creating a six-week summer program for Eastside students in grades 6-9 who have been either directly or indirectly affected by the violence in their neighborhoods. It will be called the Legacy Program and will be housed through the Police Activities League.

Several public commenters urged the council to shrink the police department budget and increase the budget for youth programs. Councilmember Alejandra Gutierrez addressed the comments and agreed with them, saying “Their lives are at stake and the youth and the children are the future of the city. What we give the youth is what they are going to bloom to.”

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