On Jan. 22, in a move contrary to the current county financial outlook, Sheriff Pat Hedges and representatives of the probation department and District Attorney's office went before the SLO County Board of Supervisors to ask for money.
They were armed with charts and statistics and stories of recent suspected gang activity--an early-January stabbing at a party in Nipomo, for instance--and they said they want additional funds to pay for more Gang Task Force members.
"I think it's extremely important that we increase our efforts and resources to deal with the emerging incidents of gang activity in our county," Hedges said. "If we don't stay ahead of the curve and we're not proactive, it's going to put us in a very precarious position."
The current Gang Task Force boasts two deputy sheriffs, two probation officers, one deputy district attorney, and one legal clerk. Hedges feels that's not nearly enough officers to combat a growing gang problem.
According to the sheriff's department, there are at least 1,200 documented gang members and 31 different street gangs in SLO County--and the numbers seem to be increasing.
In order to help address this problem, Hedges said he wants to add two sheriff's deputies, a deputy probation officer, a deputy district attorney, two vehicles, and safety equipment to the task force.
The cost of the additional staff and equipment would total more than $1 million.
"It's cheaper to prevent gang intrusion than it is to remove it," said sheriff's spokesman Rob Bryn. "We would not have gone forward in an anticipated tough budget time unless this was a serious issue. There is no question that they need these additional assets."
The supervisors said that they want more details about how to finance the additional staff and equipment. They told law enforcement officials to come up with a feasible plan and present it to them on Feb. 19.