by Keenan Wostenberg
Escondido’s gang-related violent crimes have decreased heavily in recent years thanks to the gang enforcement team and programs like FIT.
Escondido’s gang enforcement team works day and night to prevent gang activity, but recently gang activity calls have decreased. Sergeant Witholt of the Escondido Gang Investigations Unit says, “The gang activity is still there, it’s still present. It’s just not as bad as it has been in the past.” The main focus of the gang enforcement team is to keep tabs on gang members that are out of prison and are on probation or parole. Along with this, they respond to any gang-related incidents that have been reported. They make sure that their presence is always known in the city.
The violent crimes in this city have greatly affected the citizens, and the gang enforcement unit acknowledges this and hopes to continue to bring the violent crimes numbers down. “Certain numbers are up but overall we can say that violent crime is down and that’s what affects people the most. Vandalism might be around, tagging pops up now and then but it’s not like it’s spiking and spiking all the time.”
The gangs in the area mostly consist of Diablo’s and West Side Gang. Most commonly, the age of a gang member is between twelve and twenty-four, the average age being eighteen or nineteen. A large problem in any city is the influx of youth into gangs. Modern culture has led to a romanticization of gangs, whether that be through movies, television, or music. “It’s more acceptable for kids to hang out with gangsters because they like the reputation for being a troublemaker,” says Sergeant Witholt.
High schools have seen the problems that come with gangs and have responded with the Family Intervention Team (FIT). This team works with the Gang Investigations Unit to show kids that there is more to life than the gangs. FIT pairs a former police officer and a former gang member to show the kids both sides of the coin. The high schoolers who experience FIT and are shown a new side to their community. “Some kids come in and we ask them if they’ve ever gone to the beach and they tell us, no, and we tell them the beach is thirty minutes away and we take them to the beach for the first time in their lives,” says Sergeant Witholt gladly.
The continuation of this program and the constant vigilance of the gang enforcement team help to stop the gang-related violent crimes. Though there have been several high profile shootings, Sergeant Witholt states, “Shootings have gone down fifty percent per year for the past two years. This year so far it was half of last year. That’s a number we look at, a hard number. Shootings are going down greatly and we aim to keep that up.”