As police officers are deployed across South San Francisco to combat a violent spike in gang violence, a question is being raised about whether court injunctions against gang members in San Francisco and other cities are moving crime to the Peninsula.
On Dec. 22, three young men were fatally shot in South San Francisco, marking an escalation of violence in the area.
In the wake of the violence, South San Francisco police Chief Mike Massoni said his officers have encountered an increased number of gang members who reside in San Francisco, and he said he has heard similar reports from other Peninsula agencies.
Massoni said he does not know whether San Francisco’s injunctions are causing the gang members to head south, but “that is a definitely a possibility,” he said.
Other community leaders who work with gangs agree.
“I think more and more as we’re seeing these injunctions — Richmond, Oakland, San Francisco — there’s too much at risk for those individuals who are ‘banging’ to stay within their local communities,” said Michelle Vilchez, an associate director for the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center. “This is something San Mateo County is just going to have to pay attention to.”
The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, which filed the gang injunctions in The City, said it has closely tracked whether the injunctions have pushed crime elsewhere, Deputy City Attorney Yvonne Mere said.
“There is no evidence they’re now moving ‘turf’ or migrating their criminal activity to another jurisdiction,” Mere said.
The injunctions target about 135 gang members from five gangs and prohibit them from doing certain things within designated “safety zones,” such as wearing gang signs or symbols.
A gang member named in one of the injunctions might occasionally commit a crime in another city, but the concentration of gang crime does not appear to have moved elsewhere, Mere said. In addition, arrests of targeted gang members in San Francisco are down more than 40 percent since 2007.
Despite where the criminals are coming from, South San Francisco is aggressively fighting back, including spending $400,000 in reserves to hire four new police officers. Four officers were assigned this week to a “neighborhood response team” with a key goal of building a rapport with the community.
“With working closer with the students, with their parents, with the neighborhood, we can start hopefully getting ahead of it and taking control,” City Councilwoman Karyl Matsumoto said.
Also, South San Francisco officials are considering using a gang injunction themselves to combat the violence. Mayor Kevin Mullin said he hopes the deployment of the neighborhood police team and new officers will help build a stronger relationship with the community and get better intelligence about local gang activity. Coordinating with San Francisco will be crucial, too, he said.
“This problem knows no borders, and it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if there’s interplay between gangs in South City and gangs in San Francisco,” Mullin said. “There needs to be information sharing. That doesn’t stop at the northern county border.”