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The Madera Tribune

Fighting back: community members join to address gang problem

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webmaster | 03/17/05

In light of two gang-related shootings earlier this week, the timing couldn’t have been better for community members to meet and try to implement a plan to deal with Madera’s gang problem.

Some local leaders, both business and political, don’t want to admit it but Madera does have a gang problem, according to Det. Jason Dilbeck, and there are people who want some resolution.

Adam Beas of New Hope Baptist Church met with other church members and law enforcement to talk with Rev. Michael Zavala, pastor of The Potter’s Church in Fresno, to learn about their successful gang intervention program and hopefully, learn how to organize a similar effort in Madera.

“There are a lot of people here that don’t want to admit Madera has a gang problem, but we estimate that in our community of 50,000 or so people, there are about 4,700 gang members,” Madera police Det. Jason Dilbeck said.

“We see this problem a lot,” Zavala said. “City leaders and the business community don’t like to admit there is a problem with gangs because they are trying to entice new industries and development into the area. But, for a community to truly develop, they must first admit they have a problem. Only then can they make plans to resolve the problem. Once the issues are resolved, then they can grow the community in a healthy manner.”

Beas wants his church, New Hope Baptist, to work with the county, city, other churches and law enforcement to reach out to gang members, especially young people, and try to make a difference in their lives.

“We know that it is important that we get the proper training and have a balanced approach, that is why we invited Pastor Zavala here to talk about his program and make suggestions for ours,” Beas said.

Zavala was adamant about everyone involved in the organization getting thorough training and to remember the organization requires three major components to be successful.

The three components are:

  • A gang component - The gang component is designed to develop intervention programs and help gang members realize they have a problem and to help put them on the right track.
  • Training component - This is where people step in a help teach former gang members how to get along in society, how to look for jobs, how to be a good parent, fill out resumes and get proper training.
  • Resource component - Developing recourses for materials, funding, and other measures that can assist former gang members into making the transition into society.

Zavala stressed the importance of making the program not just a faith-based program, but to reach out to the whole community. He said that if the church is going out to “save souls,” they will be disappointed. The first thing the church should be interested in is to stop the gang members from harming themselves and others and build a working relationship between police and the church.

“The church can be useful in times of crisis,” said Zavala. “The families of gang members will put up walls when authority figures come around. The church can help open up those walls. More can be done to open doors by not trying to convert them, but to be there in times of crisis and minister to their physical needs, show up and pray and cook. You must befriend them before you can offer real counsel.”

Dilbeck said that the police holds classes for parents, teachers and others designed to help recognize gang members and how to work with them.

“The goals of the church can be different from the goals of the schools or police - you can’t push your own agenda. You must learn the goals and objectives of the community and the church must them align themselves with those goals, “Zavala said.

“This is not easy for the police,” said Zavala. “It’s discouraging for them to continually arrest the same kid at different stages of their lives, watching their crimes become more severe. We need to first educate the parents because dealing with the families is vital to success. That’s where the root of the problem is.”

Zavala and Dilbeck agree that to make the program work will take funding. Grants and other methods of raising the money are available but it will require working with the city.

“Getting cooperation from the city and other forms of government will require break down in cost per unit. It costs $36,000 to $38,000 to keep one person in jail per year. For that amount of money we can help a lot of people get out of gangs or to never get involved in the first place,” Zavala said.

“It costs an average of $1 million to put someone in jail for murder. Stopping the crime before it happens is more cost efficient,” Dilbeck said.

Zavala agreed.

“We must talk to politicians in terms they understand. That means using realistic numbers,” he said.

Dilbeck talked about things in his job he finds frustrating and heartbreaking.

“It’s unbelievable what we face sometimes,” said Dilbeck. “Being a member of a gang has become generational, with small children wearing colors. We have had mothers ask the police to talk to their children because the child has chosen to be a member of the wrong gang.”

“We are continually being faced with people who are killing other people, so it makes it difficult when a business owner calls us out, upset because someone tagged their building. Sometimes we just want to say, ‘I’m sorry someone tagged your office but there people getting shot out there’,” he said.

“I see young men coming out of Boot Camp and for the first time in their lives they have discipline and confidence, then go back into the same environment they left and fall back into the same trap. We need follow-up for these young men. This is where we are failing. It’s heartbreaking to see this happen over and over. We have to reach out to everyone, to all the gangs. Our chief is from Sacramento and has seen the problems with gangs. He wants to reach out to the community,” Dilbeck added.

Finding a central location for the program will be essential according to Zavala. “You don’t want to do anything that may make you look like you are giving preferential treatment.”

“There are opportunities for places, you just have to ask the right questions,” Dilbeck said. “I know that Madera’s Pan Am Center has a computer lab, but when I was there I couldn’t find any computers. When I asked about the computers I was told they didn’t have any. It made me wonder where that money was going. How can you have a computer lab and not have any computers? You have to question everything to find the right opportunities.”

Zavala ended by saying he thought the group has the elements for a successful program. He said the group just needs to sit down, outline their priorities, get input from the community, embrace police, the district attorney, the city council and the sheriff’s department and work together for a common goal, and not suffer from “paralysis by analysis.”

“Too many times people get so involved in discussion of how to do things that they never get anything done,” said Zavala. “You need to set your goals, find out who is committed and then take action and get things done.”


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