During his run for SLO County’s 1st District supervisor, Templeton-based political strategist John Peschong has repeatedly named gangs as a paramount issue in North County.
“We have a problem with gangs in our community,” Peschong told New Times and other publications. “I don’t think folks in leadership want to talk about it. I am going to work to fully fund [anti-gang efforts].”
Yet, a recent “gang update” from the Paso Robles Police Department challenged the substance of that talking point.
According to the report, which was presented to the City Council on Oct. 18, gang activity in Paso Robles is at a “historic low.” Violent crime has dropped more than 50 percent since 2013—now at a level comparable to the city of Arroyo Grande, and lower than Atascadero. The report showed that the property crime rate is on the rise, as is the overall crime rate.
In 2013, Paso Robles established a Special Enforcement Team to combat gangs and drugs, working in cooperation with SLO County’s Gang Task Force. In 2015, the District Attorney filed zero gang cases in the city—down from seven in 2014, and 12 in 2013, according to the report.
“That [Special Enforcement Team] has been very proactive,” Paso Robles Lt. Ty Lewis told New Times. “We haven’t had a homicide in a couple of years in Paso Robles.”
Lewis said the gang update came at the request of the City Council, which asked for it just weeks before Election Day. Paso Mayor Steve Martin is running against Peschong for that supervisor seat.
Following the gang update, Councilmember John Hamon, who was also a candidate for supervisor in the primary, chided Peschong for “talking up the issue” on the campaign trail.
Responding to the report, Peschong continued emphasizing gangs as a critical issue for the region. He noted that the District 1 supervisorial boundaries also include the communities of Templeton, San Miguel, and Shandon, where Sheriff Ian Parkinson has said gang activity in neighboring counties is “bleeding in” through SLO County’s borders.
“I stand by that discussion point,” Peschong told New Times. “We believe the people and voters in this community see it too.”
The SLO County Sheriff’s Office did not respond before press time to questions from New Times asking for more information about gang activity in North County.
In June, the Board of Supervisors authorized funding for two new deputies to join the county’s Gang Task Force.
Despite the progress in Paso Robles, Lewis told New Times the efforts to combat gangs are ongoing. The report stated that there are 218 documented gang members in the city.
“You’ll find that there isn’t anybody in law enforcement that will say there isn’t a gang problem,” Lewis said. “We always take it seriously.”