Police are in the early stages of launching their new Youth Services Unit, designed to divert at-risk youth away from gangs and to help those who have started down the wrong path.
The police department already works with counselors, has gang suppression teams and officers on the public school campuses. But the new unit brings these officers and counselors together "under the same umbrella," said Lt. Tony Lopez, who will be overseeing the unit.
"We would focus on [gang problems]. Then other priorities came about, and we would go that way," Lopez said. "We are looking at a more communicative approach."
The police department recently promoted Mike Ecdao to sergeant, and Mike Magana to officer of the Youth Services Unit, which is funded through a state grant and city money. Although the unit is still in its early stages, officers will soon share an office with the two school resource officers, who patrol the local schools. The police department will also be in close contact with two counselors from Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC), and the 14 gang suppression officers, all of whom have separate duties but work for a common cause: stopping gang violence.
Lopez says the key players have begun discussing plans, and have been working at Dreams and Futures, a camp for at-risk youth run by the police department.
"They are already beginning to make relationships with agencies where we could be sending kids," he said.
Once such agency is CHAC, whose counselors will help young people to give up their risky behavior. The agency offers free drug, alcohol and family counseling, and also holds parenting classes — resources available to all youth identified by the Youth Services Unit, said CHAC counselor Nicole Gwire.
"CHAC is seeing a need — these kids need support, they need an outlet," Gwire said. "We can provide support these kids maybe don't get."
The Mountain View Police Department applied for a state grant to fund the new unit after an unusual string of gang-related violent incidents earlier this year, beginning with a stabbing in January and two unrelated murders later in the year. This summer, two Mountain View residents were victims of a double homicide, and police have not yet ruled out gang involvement.
Police received $160,000 in grant money from the California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention Program, and the City Council provided an additional $180,000 to fund Magana and Ecdao's position.