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East Palo Alto meets tonight to combat violence

Goal is to improve interchange of information between community and police

East Palo Alto police Chief Ron Davis said he will welcome "openness and communication" at this evening's special town hall meeting to address a recent surge in violence in the city.

The meeting, which will be co-hosted by East Palo Alto Mayor Carlos Romero, will let the public learn more about what the city is doing to fight violence and allow police to gather new ideas and strategies from residents.

"We will inform them what we are doing to quell the violence, what we are doing to bring the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to justice," Romero said.

The goal is to "improve the interchange of information between community and police," he said.

Davis said that despite recent statistics that show overall violent crime has dropped this year from the same time period last year, homicides have increased by 50 percent, with six murders so far this year. There were four killings in all of 2010.

"Tonight is a way for people to again demonstrate that we are not going to tolerate the violence," he said.

At the meeting, police plan to debut a new public service announcement aimed at getting the city's young people to use the Police Department's anonymous text-a-tip line. Anonymous tips have aided investigations into several recent homicides, Davis said.

Romero hopes the tip line will break the "snitch cycle," by allowing residents to speak out against crime without identifying themselves.

"Criminals will think twice because they know they'll be caught," Romero said.

Police will also discuss the Summer Violence-Reduction Plan, implemented in July for the first time in response to the wave of violence, which included the June fatal shooting of a 3-month-old boy.

The plan includes identifying crime hot spots, beefing up enforcement in areas prone to violence, partnering with the San Mateo County Gang Task Force, and conducting "call-ins," or in-person meetings, with members of Norteno and Sureno gangs at which they can receive counseling and other support.

In addition to cracking down on crime, Davis said it is important to address its root causes.

Focusing on education, giving young people alternatives to crime, and helping dysfunctional families is the only way to stop violence in the long term, Davis said.

Romero will discuss how money generated by a 2006 special parcel tax, Measure C, will be poured into youth-oriented programs and services. About $430,000 has been spent on such programs over the last two years, and another $250,000 will be allocated this year.

Romero said he wants to hear community input on the best ways to invest the money.

"We want to hear from our residents. If they have criticism, constructive or not, we are always open to listen," he said.

Davis said he does not want East Palo Alto residents to grow discouraged by the numbers.

"Stay the course. We're heading in the right direction. We had the spike but it can't divert us from our focus because that seems to be working," he said.

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. at 2415 University Ave. in East Palo Alto.

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