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  • FIGHT AGAINST GANGS

    Ramos lauds progress, 87 percent conviction rate

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  • San Bernardino County’s gang problem ranks among the worst in the nation, but county District Attorney Mike Ramos says progress is being made.
    Speaking at the Barstow Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Hampton Inn in Lenwood on Tuesday morning and then at the Victorville Rotary Club luncheon at the Green Tree Golf Course clubhouse, Ramos said only Los Angeles County and Cook County in Illinois have more gang members than San Bernardino County.
    However, Ramos said his office continues to work to contain that problem. He said since he took office in 2003, he has expanded the number of county gang prosecutors from three to 20. And the DA’s conviction rate has increased from 60 percent to 87 percent, which leads the state. Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties rank second in conviction rate at 80 percent, he said.
    “We’re not going to stop,” said Ramos. “People across the country look at our protocol to fight gangs as a national model. People are looking at it and copying it.”
    Since 2005, Ramos said his office has prosecuted about 5,000 gang cases. More than 200 have resulted in life prison sentences, and two convicted gang members are now on death row.
    “(Then Sheriff Gary) Penrod and I in 2005 came up with this protocol and plan,” he said. “We said we are going to increase our gang prosecution unit, and put in a gang suppression unit that’s bigger and better than anywhere else.”
    Besides increasing the number of deputy district attorneys committed to prosecuting gang crimes, Ramos also has increased clerical support, as well as the number of victims advocates and investigators. The DA’s office has worked hand-in-hand with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department too, and has focused on improving witness and victim protection, he said.
    Ramos said the keys to getting gang members off the street are utilizing gang enhancements when charging defendants, making sure prosecutors make note of prior convictions for violent crimes or gun use and seeking and taking advantage of gang injunctions. The latter can be used for neighborhoods or entire cities.
    “We can get rid of the gang and give the neighborhood back to the community,” Ramos said. “We can have a curfew on them, say what they can and cannot wear, who they can and cannot see” and even put restrictions on tattoos.
    “We have some gang injunctions in Rancho Cucamonga and Victorville,” he said. “They work with gangs that are territorial and we’re going to keep doing it.”
    By using gang enhancements during prosecution, Ramos said prison sentences can be dramatically lengthened — and the gang members must be sent to state prison.
    “A gang allegation can add anywhere from 5 years to 25 years to a sentence,” he said. “Anybody who’s violent, uses a gun or is a gang member is going to state prison.”
    Ramos said his gang unit has prosecuted 156 cases in the High Desert so far this year, with those convicted receiving a collective 1,000 years in state prison.
    “We are in a war against territorial and transitional gangs,” he said. “I think we’re doing a better job with the territorial gangs.”
    Territorial gangs are those that have roots in a community, such as East Side Victoria in Victorville, Ramos said. Transitional gangs include those from Los Angeles, Las Vegas and even from the Mexican drug cartels who come to the High Desert because of the easy access from Interstate 15, 40 or 215 and cheap housing.
    Gangs have three chief ways of making money, Ramos said: Drugs, guns and human trafficking. Law enforcement has traditionally focused on the first two, but Ramos now has formed a taskforce with the Sheriff’s Department and FBI that is focusing on human trafficking — young girls who are forced into the sex trade by gangs.
    Ramos said all the enforcement in the world won’t solve the gang problem, however. He said he also is working on prevention and intervention. He praised the county’s Gang Reduction and Intervention Program (GRIP), which has had success in Rialto.
    “It’s a five-week program starting in second and fifth grades,” he said. “We talk about staying in school, saying no to drugs and staying away from gangs. They get a backpack, school supplies. My goal is to spread it around the whole county.”
    GRIP targets youngsters at an early age because gangs do too, Ramos said.
    “It’s not middle school anymore, they start recruiting now in the sixth grade, fifth grade,” he said.
     Steve Hunt can be reached at 760-951-6270 or at SHunt@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevehunteditor.
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