There had been a year of declines. But now gang-related crime in San Diego has spiked in recent months with the city logging twice as many homicides as the same time last year and 20 percent more gang-related crimes overall.
Enter: a progressive city council member complaining that police stops “proved” that the San Diego PD’s Gang Suppression unit was stopping too many gang members.
So what happened? Crime started jumping when the appointed police chief, seemingly to gain favor with the new administration, changed the mission of the proactive decorated unit.
The new progressive agenda? Some say it’s to curtail their gang suppression focus and contact to reduce the data by limiting this proactive police tactic.
The numbers show it all. There’s been a rash of shootings, retaliation attacks and other crimes that’s now put the raw number of gang-related crimes this year far ahead of the number through July 2018.
Here are the police statistics.
There were 463 gang-related crimes committed through June. That’s up from 385 during the same period last year – an increase of 78 crimes which is reflected in nearly all categories.
Last year at this time there had been five gang homicides. So far this year, 10. In all of 2018, there were six.
On top of that, the data also shows there have been more robberies, assaults with a deadly weapon and attempted murders.
The official statement is that nobody knows why there’s a sudden surge in gang crime, and police officials say there’s no gang war.
The did, however, acknowledge violence between rival gangs had intensified over the summer.
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Let’s look at the overall violent crime rate in the city. It’s increased slightly over the past two years, and it’s an upward trend that was a factor in a decision made earlier this year by Chief David Nisleit and top police brass to overhaul the Gang Suppression Team.
That’s the aforementioned team which traditionally focused on combating gang crime in the region.
Look back at what they did in April.
Police leaders renamed the group the Special Operations Unit. They also told them to respond to any source of violent crime across the city, including but not limited to violent gang activity… a move snuck through with no publicity.
“There was an increase in violent crime occurring in the city and (Nisleit) wanted to use the Gang Suppression Team to zero in on that issue,” said Lt. Shawn Takeuchi, the department’s spokesman. “The team was tied to crimes with a gang nexus, but he wanted to use their skill set, so he decided to expand their role.”
So what did those duties consist of?
For one, the team of officers patrolled neighborhoods where gangs were active.
And while department leaders have credited the team with keeping gang crimes in check, not everyone was on board. The presence of the officers and their work was criticized by some neighborhood residents – shocker. Those residents complained of heavy-handed tactics and aggressive policing. Over the years some activists have called for disbanding the team.
According to Takuechi, there is still a group of detectives focusing on gang crimes exclusively.
He also said the officers in the former gang team now have a broader responsibility to assist investigating violent crimes throughout the city. He added the leadership was hopeful the team would be able to manage both tasks of investigating violent crimes and gang crimes.
“We have a duty to respond to and investigate crimes and arrest offenders that we feel are responsible,” he said. “We’ve rebranded (the unit) because the chief saw an increase in violent crime and we cannot let that increase happen.”
Around the same time that all of this went down, the department also created the Gang Intervention Unit.
It was formed in March with an aim of working closely with community members and young people to prevent future gang violence.
The difference is they don’t conduct the intensive street patrols that was the hallmark of the suppression team.
The same month that the Special Operations Unit was inaugurated, a month-by-month breakdown of gang incidents provided by police shows the rise in gang crimes began.
In the first three months of the year, police logged one fewer gang crime than the same three month period in 2018… but by April there were 23 more than by the same month a year ago. Add 29 more in May, 57 more in June and 78 more in July. We’re talking total gang-related crimes by the same month in 2018.
Data isn’t yet out for August, but it appears the trend is continuing.
Here are a handful of cases.
Just over four days in August, a 19-year-old man was injured in what police say is a gang-related shooting near Kelly Street in Linda Vista.
Then on August 11, four people were hurt during a shootout between two rival gangs. It happened in Valencia Park on South Euclid near Logan Avenue.
That first shooting location has been a hot spot – like on May 23 when 16-year-old Carlos Valdovinos was shot to death in a drive-by shooting.
Prosecutors have charged Andy Phongsongkham with the murder – a man said to be a member of an Asian street gang and the victim an associate of a Hispanic gang.
Only a few weeks later, police say two people were shot near a memorial that had been set up for Valdovinos.
Both survived – neither talked to the cops.
Flash forward August 7, when a 19-year-old man was wounded again on Kelly Street in what police say was yet another gang-related shooting.
A citywide analysis over the past five years of violent crime shows that area has also experienced an increase in overall violent crime. We’re talking about an increase of 250 percent in that small area of Linda Vista between 2014 and 2018.
Then you’ve got a couple of more homicides in July involving gang members – On July 5, 37-year-old Dustin Bridwell was shot to death outside his home on Calle Gaviota in Paradise Hills… and on July 13, Joaquin Ruiz was murdered on Zest Street near Paradise Valley Road also in Paradise Hills.
State law defines a gang-related crime as one that is committed at the direction of, for the benefit of, or in association with a criminal street gang.
So far, no arrests have been made in either case.
Throwing back to last year, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office gang unit issued murder charges against six people in two gang-related homicides committed that year.
But statistics provided to the media by the office show they did not issue any gang murder cases after May 2018.
As far as this year goes? Already there’ve been murder charges filed against five defendants — all between May and July — in three separate cases.
Deputy District Attorney Frank Jackson leads the unit. He weighed in and said prosecutors are aware of the upswing in gang crimes.
“I’ve seen the same stats and noticed the same trends,” he said. “My division is trying to be as active as possible to try to solve these, to get ahead of the curve, to try to tamp this down. There is definitely an increase over previous years.”
He wouldn’t weigh in on if redeploying the gang suppression team has led to an increase in gang crimes.
“I’m going to leave it to SDPD to decide how to utilize their resources,” he said.