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Unsettling Statistics - Police Review Shows 23 Drive By Shootings
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Riverbank has suffered 23 drive-by shootings so far this year compared with nine in 2010 and four in 2009, Police Chief Bill Pooley told city council members in a recent police services review.

Patterson, he added, has had 18 during the same period this year.

Most victims are uncooperative, most of the shootings occur on the "states streets," two shootings resulted in people being hit but there were no fatalities and arrests were made in both those cases.

"Gangs (who generally do the shootings) are entrenched in Riverbank sometimes to the third generation," Pooley said, because the neighbors are afraid and gang members will not tell on each other. "We have to break the cycle of silence. The police cannot solve the gang issue without the help of the community. We must develop a level of trust with the citizens."

The majority of gang crimes go unreported or without a victim because people fear retaliation in their own neighborhoods and it prohibits them from coming forward as a witness or a victim. In the gang culture, gang members too refuse to come forward as a victim or witness for fear of being labeled "a rat or snitch" which can incur severe consequences from other members.

Riverbank has approximately 223 gang members "documented" in police records with many more "flying under the radar," Pooley noted. Of the documented gang members, the predominant groups are two Hispanic street gangs called Surenos and Nortenos.

There have been about 15 subsets of Hispanic street gangs documented just in Riverbank. The two most well noted by local law enforcement are the Riverbank Vato Locos (RVL) that represent Nortenos and the Mexican Loketos Surenos (MLS) that represent Surenos.

Riverbank Police Services response to the situation has been to bring in three, two-man units from the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department in Modesto to patrol the city at varying intervals. They are experts in dealing with gangs, said Pooley, visit twice a month and work a typical shift. They have made sweeps and completed 61 probation searches with 29 arrests. The local police station also has adjusted the hours of detectives and traffic officers to help and enlisted the aid of a K-9 unit to work during peak crime hours.

One anti-gang move that has been very successful elsewhere is "a gang injunction," said Pooley. This makes it illegal for documented gang members to associate anywhere within the boundaries of the "safety zone" which in a city as small as Riverbank could be the entire city.

The problem with setting up that system is it requires a lot of manpower and time. Local authorities must search their paperwork for several years back to establish that a gang member deserves to be documented and must then inform the District Attorney's Office that also must then make extensive checks of each individual's crime history.

The other tool against gangs is education and outreach to the community to enlist their support against crime and trust in the police. To this end, Pooley will continue and expand community projects such as National Night Out, Neighborhood Watch, the Drug Store Program, Senior Outreach, Shop With A Cop, Special Olympics, the Farmer's Market Health & Safety Fair (slated for Aug. 20), Special Olympics, school presentations and a new large event proposed for Castleberg Park in September.