Russ Thomas, Merced Police Chief, says "We're seeing kids as young as 14, 15 that are involved in very violent crime. And I can't say it's an epidemic, but it's a disturbing trend, and we certainly want to reverse that trend and stop the violence all together."
Chief Thomas is one of 15 task force members who have been meeting regularly for the past 18 months to develop specific plans for reaching that goal. ComVIP also includes educators, judges, city officials, and non-profit directors.
Flip Hassett, United Way of Merced County Exec. Dir., says "It's all about how we can all help to make our community safer and better."
So far, ComVIP has hosted several gang awareness workshops for parents, implemented self-esteem programs in local schools, and helped convince the Merced City School District to delay dismissal times at four middle schools.
Chief Thomas says, "We hope it will have an impact on crime by keeping these kids off the streets in the afternoon before their parents get home."
The city's crime rate did drop slightly between 2006 and 2007. However ComVIP members say there's much more work to be done. Up until now, the task force has operated without a budget. But now it's hoping the public will offer some financial support to add and expand youth programs.
"We now need the neighborhoods help and people individually to come out and give their time, maybe their gifts, and their money as we start working on projects to keep our kids safe," says Hassett.