Drug abuse and addiction are not the only factors contributing to homelessness, but drug use has been downgraded by voters. Possession of needles is no longer illegal, and possession of drugs are now misdemeanors. We’ve also voted to decrease our prison population by 25%, modified our three strikes laws, and lowered penalties for too many crimes. Now more drugs are coming into our area in larger quantities. Most controlled substances are being illegally sold and distributed by local gangs to the homeless, our youth and others.

As a former SRPD police officer with 27 years on the force, I know first-hand what this means to our community. The gang problem grew from three certified gangs with 150 members in 1991, to over 25 gangs with more than 3,000 members by 2009, where it remains today.

Our local law enforcement agencies are investigating felony assaults, drive-by shootings, and homicides committed by criminal street gang members. These gang members are becoming better armed and more violent in their quest for control of their neighborhoods, turf, and criminal enterprises. They will commit burglaries to obtain weapons or for monetary gain, and frequently commit drug related home invasion robberies. Both street gang members and prison gang members often target marijuana growers for thefts or robberies, according to the SRPD website.

The Santa Rosa Police Department formed a gang investigation unit in the late 1980s. In 2006, after the Gang Team had been broken up due to budget and staffing shortages, SRPD reconstituted its anti-gang efforts. The department formed what is now called the Gang Crimes Team. One of its detectives is assigned to the North Bay Regional Gang Task Force, an FBI led effort to conduct pro-active long-term investigations targeting criminal organizations.

While this police unit has been effective, today it is restricted to only what it is authorized to do by law in order to address the drug issue. However, the Alliance is helping by offering cash rewards for information leading to the arrest of Santa Rosa’s Most Wanted.

A number of police services also support the department’s Community Orientated Policing program. Officers are assigned to schools to help safeguard this environment and to serve as role models by getting to know young people and presenting classroom talks. Other services include a Citizen Police Academy, Youth Citizen Police Academy, Downtown Enforcement Team, Volunteers in Police Services (VIPS), Violence Prevention Network, and many others.

The City of Santa Rosa’s Office of Community Engagement is home to the Santa Rosa Violence Prevention Partnership funded by Measure O in 2004. Its mission is to strengthen youth and families and build safe communities by leading, mobilizing and aligning community resources.

The partnership has invested in numerous programs that support pro-school behavior in youth and families and has provided alternatives to gang involvement by supporting community organizations that align with its mission and vision. For more information about the partnership, contact Violence Prevention Manager Jason Carter at 707-543-4321 or jcarter@srcity.org.

In addition, gang prevention and intervention help is also available through the City of Santa Rosa’s Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force, established by an SCA member and then Mayor Sharon Wright in 2003. If you would like information about these services, call the Santa Rosa Department of Recreation and Parks at 707-543-3457. (https://srcity.org/ThePartnership).

Drug use among kids can start in middle school among pre-teens. As parents, we all need to be aware of the early warning signs of drug use, gang involvement and what we can do about it. For more information on this topic go to https://srcity.org/494/Pre-Teens-Gangs.

The gang/drug connection has broad implications for Santa Rosa and the county. In short, we need to get ahead – and stay ahead — of the problem if police and citizens working together are to preserve and protect residents, especially our children, and reduce criminal activity.

We can all become part of efforts aimed at stopping illicit drug traffic, protecting our young people and safeguarding other members of the community – including the homeless. My hope is that SCA members will review these options and become involved.

Eric Goldschlag, President