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Gang Intervention Team, Police Work to Keep The Calm During Long, Hot Summer

Published on Monday, September 12, 2022 | 6:18 am

Despite the searing heat, the city has managed to make it through the summer without major gang violence.

Local officials told Pasadena Now that work by local gang interventionist Ricky Pickens and his team has been vital this year along with efforts by the Pasadena Police Department. 

“Intervention, prevention and enforcement has been key in coordination with making vital arrests by patrol officers and detectives and has suppressed violence at all levels,” said Pasadena Public Information Officer Lisa Derderian. “The gang intervention team coordinated through the city manager’s office has established partnerships in the community and their engagement with strategic initiatives has proven to be beneficial.  Overall, this is a big effort amongst many city departments and community stakeholders.”

Pickens and his team received a $288,000, three-year contract with the City that will allow them to continue to do important work in the City through a CalVIP grant.

Pasadena experienced a rise in gang violence which resulted in a 125% increase in confirmed shootings between 2019 and 2021.

The City Manager’s Office originally retained Pickens on a short-term basis in response to this uptick and immediately the team got to work.

By July of last year, the team reported 537 outreach efforts, mediated 24 conflicts, conducted 587 hours of phone mediation, interrupted 16 violent conflicts, responded to seven shootings, mediated 15 social media conflicts, held 34 meetings with gang leaders and members, generated 134 referrals for jobs and services, and helped employ 13 high-risk gang members.

The work, in conjunction with work by the police department, led to a 26% decrease in violent crime beginning in April that carried over to May and June.

This year, Pickens’ team became concerned in May after Eric Lynn Thomas, 28, was found shot dead in an apartment complex in the 1700 block of North Fair Oaks Avenue on May 2.

Shortly before 9 p.m. police received 911 calls and an alert of “Shots Fired” from the recently activated “ShotSpotter” gunfire detection system.

Upon arrival, officers located Thomas’s body in the common area of an apartment building,  showing multiple gunshot wounds. Thomas was unresponsive and pronounced dead at the scene.

Police continue to investigate the shooting and have released details regarding the car the suspect was driving and a sketch of a suspect. 

Police also continue to do their part to combat local violence.

Earlier this year the Department rolled out ShotSpotter, an automated system which uses sensors to triangulate the locations of gunshots it records, in real time, allowing police to respond faster to the exact crime scene when shots are fired.

Police have confiscated 141 firearms, including 103 pistols, 26 assault rifles and 13 shotguns.

Last year, police seized a record 345 illegal guns, jumping 20% over the previous highest-ever count of 288 in 2020.

“In regard to gang violence, the Pasadena PD is actively investigating crimes associated with gangs,” said Acting Commander Marcia Taglioretti, Pasadena Police Department public information officer. “We are pursuing subjects that are involved in these gang crimes.”

Police said they do not actively work with Pickens’ team and law enforcement officials conduct their own investigations.

Pickens’ team was also concerned that lifting COVID restrictions and the hot weather would lead to more people on the streets, increasing the potential for more violence.

In the previous months there had been violence that raised concerns that more outdoor events and summer heat could lead to retaliations. 

“The summer overall in regards to gang violence I believe was fairly a quiet one,” Pickens said. “We started in early May with a homicide which was very unfortunate, and heartbreaking.”

Pickens gave credit to his team when he spoke to Pasadena Now

“What we did was rumor control, peer counseling and interventions that help reduce retaliation. The GIT were at hot spots, gang frequented areas and /or neighborhood parks to provide a presence and peer support to gang impacted individuals. The GIT hosted a few peaceful events [like] Hope and Hoops Basketball Tournament and gave away backpacks and gift cards.”

Pickens said that his team also makes referrals to service providers to ensure that individuals at the center of gang-gun violence can pinpoint services that possibly will lead them to an alternative lifestyle.

Pickens praised community based nonprofit organizations that held peace events, outreach in the parks and/or provided essential services all contributed to the reduction in violence. 

“Our churches don’t get enough credit but they also stepped up over the summer by being present in the community, Pasadena Church and Metropolitan Baptist Church in particular,”Pickens said.  

“The church is the foundation for addressing the root causes of violence in our community. I say that because a lot of strongholds are developed early in life that are traumatic and often unaddressed. Spiritual health is critical to our mental health. Then we move to the schools where kids develop their social behaviors, and we follow that with effective after school, prevention and intervention programs. All of this is the prescription for hope and a healthy community.” 

Pickens said his team is on a good trajectory to breaking the cycle of violence. “The new CalVIP grant allows us to collaborate and tackle this complex issue in our respected lanes of expertise.”

But he cautioned that everyone that works on the frontline has to continue to stay engaged and be proactive. 

“Everyone that works, worships, and resides here should be inspired to get involved in prevention and intervention efforts,” he said. “It doesn’t matter our race, social economic status or location of residence. We are one Pasadena.”

“When violence erupts in Pasadena it affects us all. Just like when there’s peace in Pasadena we all enjoy it.”

“Gang Intervention is one prong, our sustained combined efforts of intervention, community engagement, and community policing will help us to finish out this year a Peaceful Pasadena.”

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