Violence Marks Start of CHP Fight against Richmond Gangs

By Richard Brenneman
Friday February 08, 2008

California Highway Patrol officers joined Richmond Police on patrol this week in a three-month concerted effort to stem the bloodshed that has plagued the city in recent months. 

Even for a city where murder is the third leading cause of death among African American men and where homicide rates average 10 times higher than for Contra Costa County as a whole, the last months of 2007 and the first weeks of the new year have proved particularly bloody. 

“We had 27 homicides in three months, which is a record for our city,” said Richmond Police Lt. Mark Gagan. “We had 13 in December, which is an all-time record.” In the same month of 2006, the city logged only two homicides. 

The year-end surge brought the city’s yearly homicide rate to 47. 

January brought four more killings, while February has logged only one—though one man clings to life following a pair of shootings that took place minutes before CHP units were set to hit the streets for their second day of patrolling the city, leaving one man clinging to his life in a trauma center. 

Lt. Gagan attributed the immediate causes of the violence to gang feuds, one between groups in North Richmond and the center of the city and the other blamed on infighting on the city’s southside. 

More that 20 CHP officers rolled through Richmond streets Tuesday evening on the first of their 12-hour shifts in the city, said Officer Sam Morgan, CHP spokesperson, and police reported a relatively quiet evening in the troubled city. 

All that was to change at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, when a drive-by shooter in a silver Nissan Altima opened up on a 16-year-old standing near the corner of Potrero and Carlson boulevards. 

The shooter, who was riding in the passenger seat, fired multiple rounds at the youth, who was struck in both hands. 

“He has gang ties, and he has been uncooperative,” said Lt. Gagan. 

Police believe the next shooting, which took place 20 minutes later, was related. 

An SUV pulled up alongside a car stopped at a red light at the intersection of San Pablo and Macdonald avenues and a front-passenger-seat shooter fired multiple bullets into a 23-year-old man as he sat behind the wheel of his Cadillac, waiting for the light to change, said the officer. 

Struck multiple times, the grievously wounded driver stepped on the gas, careening through the intersection and striking a passing car. 

The resulting chaos shut down one of the city’s busiest intersections at the start of rush hour while investigators combed the scene and a helicopter airlifted the victim to treatment. 

The shooting happened ten minutes before CHP officers were scheduled to hit the streets, Lt. Gagan said. 

Police and CHP officers have detailed descriptions of the cars, but the lieutenant said it is unlikely either vehicle is linked directly to the shooters. 

“Typically in these cases they use stolen cars or community cars,” he said. 


A CalGRP on gangs 

The patrol—which exacts no cost from the city—comes at the request of Richmond police through Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s CalGRIP program, short for the California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention Program, first announced last May. 

Paul Seave, a former federal prosecutor, directs the program under the aegis of the state Office of Emergency Services, but reports directly to the governor’s office. 

CHP intervention is only one of the programs Seave is charged with overseeing, though the exact nature of his duties is still a work-in-progress, he said Thursday. 

“I got the job on Sept. 24,” he said. “CalGRIP is really an umbrella term, and it refers to a number of funds and funding grants that are being or will be distributed,” as well as programs overseen by his office. 

“Seven million dollars is set aside for the California Highway Patrol for helping local law enforcement,” he said, funds derived from motor vehicle fees. If the annual allocation isn’t spent, the money reverts to the CHP for other programs. 

Morgan said the CHP has been called into other Bay Area cities, and is currently deployed in Oakland. Other cities which have invited the patrol are San Francisco, Vallejo and East Palo Alto, as well as communities in Southern California, he said. Seave said Salinas has also used CHP patrols. 

CHP officers enter local communities with a three-month commitment, and the community has the option to keep them on the streets for another three months. 

“After that, there is a review process, and then they can submit a request to have us return,” Morgan said. 

The CHP officers patrol through the streets in high-crime neighborhoods like the city’s Iron Triangle, looking for what Morgan called “on-view traffic and criminal violations,” leaving the investigative work to the city’s own detectives. 

“We’ve had a welcome response from both the Richmond Police and elements of the community,” Morgan said. 

McLaughlin said the idea of calling in the Highway Patrol came from Richmond Police Chris Magnus, who informed City Council. “The (council’s) public safety committee had called a special meeting prior to the city council meeting and heard from the police chief there,” she said.  


Partial solution 

Rev. Andrew Shumake Sr., a founder of the Richmond Improvement Association and a prominent advocate for the city’s poor, said that while he welcomes the presence of the CHP because of the recent surge in killings, he fears Richmond’s elected officials are dealing with only half of the problem. 

“If you want these young people to lay something down, you also have to give them something to pick up,” he said. Without jobs to give young unemployed men and women something constructive to do, he said, violence will only resume when the CHP eventually leaves. 

“I am tired of going to these funerals,” he said, adding that he has a service to conduct Friday for a young woman slain in the epidemic of violence. 

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said long-range solutions will involve “program/service opportunities, outreach/peacekeeping teams, conflict mediation, healing, job training, jobs, educational enhancement.” 

The mayor said “causes for any one homicide or cluster of homicides are varied and unpredictable. It can be the result of feuding street factions from different neighborhoods, domestic violence, or other isolated incidents. 

One new program is charged with tackling the dynamics that lead to factional violence, McLaughlin said. 

“The new Office of Neighborhood Safety’s outreach program will be specifically addressing the issue of inter-neighborhood feuds in an effort to prevent them from escalating to fatal proportions,” she said. 

Seave said prevention and job programs play a major role in CalGRIP’s agenda as well. 

“Whenever you talk to gang members and people who want to get out of gangs or people who work with people in gangs,” the need for jobs “is the first thing you hear, and it’s legitimate.” 

One of the programs under his charge is the $6 million in federal funding under the Workforce and Labor Development Agency for job training and placement. 

The state has put out a call to local agencies for applications. 

Seave said hundreds of millions in state funds are available for programs ranging from enforcement to prevention, for both government and private agencies. 

One program under his office offers $9.5 million for community grants, with $2 million for private agencies and the rest for cities—with $1 million off the top for Los Angeles. 

“I believe Richmond has already applied for funding,” he said. 

Seave said he’s still gathering information on the full range of programs under a wide range of agencies that are designed to address the problems of gangs and gang violence. 

“Call me back in a few months, when I have a better idea” of which ones are working and which ones aren’t, he said.