San Jose: Audit highlights need for gang task force improvements

A recent city audit suggests that San Jose Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force — a city-wide coalition aimed at addressing gangs and gang-related crime — is failing to meet expectations and could use some improvements.

Formed in 1991, the task force is run by the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services and works with more than 20 area nonprofits that share a common goal of helping at-risk youth and cutting back on crime.

Better coordination between the multiple players — including the San Jose Police Department and the participating school districts — is one area highlighted in the report.

Acting City Auditor, Joe Rios, lists — among other things — a lack of an agreement with the Santa Clara County Office of Re-entry Services as one area of concern and a small number of referrals from the Santa Clara County Probation as another.

“The success of the Task Force in providing services to San José youth relies on coordination among the various partners,” the report says.

In another finding, the report mentions inconsistencies in the use of the terms such as “high risk” and “low risk,” and that they could stand to have better clarity on who the task force’s target population is. “One of the (things) that we haven’t done is a create a universal assessment,” said Neil Rufino, deputy director for PRNS. “People see things in different ways.”

The 74-page report lists 17 recommendations for the task force in total. The work of the task force has contributed a modest impact on area crime, according to a recent evaluation completed by third party consultants. The city audit points to improvements that could be made in coordination with its partners and data use that may strengthen its efforts further.

In its published response, PRNS agreed to each recommendation and set goals over the next two years to meet each of them.

In response to the auditor’s request that services are targeted to the appropriate population, PRNS Acting Director Jon Cicirelli writes that they will develop a grant agreement that more clearly defines the target populations.

The San Jose City Council accepted the report at its meeting Tuesday.

Vice Mayor Chappie Jones said at the meeting that he initiated the audit to learn how to make the task force stronger. Jones said he viewed a finding that the Safe School Campus Initiative could benefit from better oversight, accountability and follow up as significant.

“That really jumped out at me when I saw the report,” said Jones.

Jones also acknowledged that he understands that a lot of the work done by the task force cannot be measured. He said being able to quantify success is essential.

Mayor Sam Liccardo agrees.

“How exactly is the program working? (For) a young person who is struggling, how do we know that we’re really reaching them? And enabling them to better thrive?” Liccardo said. “Is a teenager staying in class? Do they see a future for themselves and are they achieving that or are they back in jail?”

Councilwoman Magdalena Carrasco — whose district encompasses many of the areas affected by gang violence — highlighted her appreciation for the work the task force has done over the years.

“This is, by far, one of the toughest things that we do, I think, in the city of San Jose because this is the job that saves lives,” she said. “This is the task force that has gained accolades across the country and internationally.”

Rufino says that his department will continue to improve the program and use the audit as a guide for moving forward.

“I think it’s making sure that we continue looking inward and that we really focus on maintaining formal partnerships and relationships with groups like probation, nonprofit partners and schools,” Rufino said. “Our partners don’t believe on giving up on kids.”

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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