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Thursday, February 4, 2021

Lompoc community leaders discuss gang prevention

Posted By on Thu, Feb 4, 2021 at 11:06 AM

Following a week of increased violence in Lompoc, a group of gang intervention and prevention stakeholders came together for a virtual crime forum on Feb. 1 to answer questions from the community and give updates on their work.

click to enlarge COMING TOGETHER Stakeholders in Lompoc gang prevention held a virtual forum on Feb. 1 to give updates on their work in the community. - SCREENSHOT FROM CITY OF LOMPOC’S YOUTUBE PAGE
  • COMING TOGETHER Stakeholders in Lompoc gang prevention held a virtual forum on Feb. 1 to give updates on their work in the community.
“This is an opportunity for our police chief and some of our community members to communicate what’s going on with relation to gang violence and activities for our youth and prevention,” Mayor Jenelle Osborne said at the forum. “While we have various issues going on surrounding crime in our community, it’s a really big subject, so we thought it best to focus on portions of violent crime in our community and have meaningful discussions around individual issues.”

The idea is to hold additional panel discussions down the road to address other aspects of crime in Lompoc, Osborne said.

Lompoc Police Chief Joseph Mariani said the police department is dealing with the challenges that come with limited resources.

“It’s common knowledge that we’re understaffed,” Mariani said. “I had some very difficult decisions to make. … We had to shut down our gang unit, our narcotics unit, because we had to take those personnel and put them in patrol.”

Mariani said the city saw “a horrendous week last week” in crime.

“We had four shootings in less than 48 hours,” he said. “We need to do better for our youth, and parents should be able to send their kid to the store to get food and not have the fear that in doing so they’re going to be attacked, assaulted, or shot.”

Also among the panelists was Chuck Madson, the co-founder of Future, a community organization with a mission to empower young people and a vision for a youth center—a goal that was nearly to fruition when the pandemic hit.

“What we saw was youth that were struggling connecting to options in our community, so our goal was to provide a location for youth, no matter what part of town you’re in, and have a one-stop resource for all those wonderful organizations in town that can provide support to our youth,” Madson said.

While COVID-19 brings certain barriers to in-person engagement, Madson continues to push the conversation around gang violence to one of prevention, rather than waiting for crimes to happen before taking action.

“What I encourage is our community to come together, even when unfortunate circumstances like this aren’t happening, and support all the amazing organizations here in town,” he said.

Devika Stalling, director of the Boys and Girls Club of Lompoc and vice president of Future, spoke about the community walks she used to organize prior to COVID-19.

“My sole purpose was to go into these gang-riddled neighborhoods where there was high gang activity and high drug activity and get those kids out of that environment,” Stalling said. “It worked. It also gave our police department and other people an opportunity to create a relationship where it wasn’t always on the bad end of things, but getting to know people.”

Madson said that gang violence in Lompoc is “just a symptom of a community struggling.”

“We have to come together as a community, all of us, and empower those organizations that are providing services to our kids and our youth,” Madson said. “But if you’re sitting there and you want to know what to do, or how you can help, please reach out. Shoot me an email and I’ll hook you up with somebody in town that could really use your support.” Δ

—Malea Martin
Readers Poll

Do you think the SLO County Board of Supervisors should have gone against their policy that states funding for independent special districts should not result in a net fiscal loss to the county?

  • A. Yes, the housing and job opportunity the Dana Reserve is bringing is important
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