Fresno violence calms after police gang operation

FRESNO, Calif.

Fresno's gang violence reached a problem level early this month. Janee Tatum's murder at the Crossroads bar was one of 30 shootings in 28 days, forcing police to take note.

"Most of the shootings are occurring in southwest, with a lot of the gang feuds happening in southwest right now," said Lt. Mark Salazar.

As Action News reported last week, 100 officers hit the streets, armed with 50 warrants, targeting gangs and their guns. They arrested several people and the results were almost immediate.

"We've seen our shootings dramatically reduced," said Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer. "In fact, we went from 30 shootings in a 28-day period to where we had 3 shootings in the last 7 days."

Police have kept the pressure on ever since, hoping to disrupt the lifestyle that leads to violence. Tatum is one of 18 people murdered in Fresno this year already, up from 11 at this time last year. Of those 18 murders, 15 are gang-related and 16 have been carried out with guns.

"We haven't seen that in a long time," said Lt. Salazar. "In fact, I don't think we've ever seen it. We usually average 60% guns are used in murder."

The homicide team had a 90% solve rate last year, compared to about 63% nationwide. Investigations into the recent rash of shootings are mostly wrapped up, but Mario Castenon's death is still unsolved. Police know he was shot near Highway 180 and Marks back on March 17, then crashed at Fulton and 180. They say the shooting was gang-related, but even though it happened in broad daylight on a busy road, clues have been slow to come in. But operations like last week's are also designed to penetrate the silence surrounding this type of case.

"They are well aware of the fact that we are gathering intelligence," said Chief Dyer. "Some of that information is coming in from informants. Some of that information is coming in from fellow gang members."

Detectives realize tensions between some gangs will always simmer. But Chief Dyer says big operations like last week's often drive gang members out of town or underground and, at least for a while, they control the violence.

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