By Sue Dremann
East Palo Alto police called in 11 gang members who are at risk for committing more crimes to a sit-down meeting Tuesday afternoon to warn them they will be targeted for arrest and long prison terms if they persist in committing crimes.
Called Operation Ceasefire, the state-funded program has been used in 10 inner cities to identify people at risk of re-offending and to offer them job training, counseling and other services to help them become them productive members of their community, Sgt. Jeff Liu said.
Police sent notices last week to members of The Vill gang, which operates in a section of the city known as The Village, south of University Avenue and east of Runnymede.
The 11 men met with police, the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office, the San Mateo County Sheriff's Gang Task Force, parole agents, faith leaders and social service providers, who said in no uncertain terms that violence would not be allowed to continue. A Stanford Hospital representative spoke about what happens when a person has been shot.
"We told them: 'We know who you are, and we've done research on you. You have two choices: The preferred is to stop the behavior and have job training and job-locating help -- we'll give you the tools to become successful and productive members of the community -- and the alternative is that you can not take the helping hand and continue the crime. All agencies will target you. We will make it our project to target you and to send you to prison for a long time,'" Liu said.
Law-enforcement officials delivered their message and left the room; then, service providers, including Menlo Park-based JobTrain, took over. They talked privately with the men and helped them to understand they do have a choice, he said. The participants will have case managers as they go through the program.
By the end of the session, nine men signed up, Liu said.
In the coming months, additional groups of gang members will be called in, he said. Parolees and people on probation are being approached for now, but Liu said the department wants to bring in people who are at risk but who have not yet committed crimes.
"The bottom line is … you can make a better choice. People don't have to go to prison to make East Palo Alto safer," Liu said.