Sheriff Ken Furlong said Monday at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon focusing on gangs that crime numbers are down for the first time in 20 years, thanks to specialized gang units within his department and the surrounding counties and an aggressive stance from the District Attorney's Office.
"Gangs are not a new phenomenon," said Furlong to a crowd of about 65 at the chamber's second annual Quality of Life luncheon at the Carson Nugget.
"It was long said gangs don't exist in Carson, yet as far back as the early 1980s, the Sheriff's Office has assigned (officers) to a gang detail," said Furlong. "(Now) we force ourselves to talk about it because it's essential."
Furlong noted the crime numbers went down when a number of community-based groups emerged.
The formation of Partnership Carson City, "declared that drugs and gangs were not just a law enforcement problem to solve, but everyone's problem to attack," he said.
And in 2006 the Carson City Board of Supervisors approved the first ever funding for a special sheriff's unit which is now the Special Enforcement Team, working proactively in the community to "get ahead" of the crimes, said Furlong.
He said that since then Douglas, Lyon and Carson City came together to form the Tri-County Gang Task Force which makes gang intelligence better and crosses county lines, making enforcement further reaching.
District Attorney Neil Rombardo spoke to the group about what people need to do to get the message across to today's youth.
"Prevention starts at a young age. I'm talking 3, 4, 5. If we don't teach our children at those ages that this gang lifestyle is not OK, they will be our next gang members," said Rombardo, who, in 2007, applied for and received a grant to create GRIPS, Gangs Response Intervention Prevention and Suppression.
The GRIPS program has a part in the Neighborhood Watch, Secret Witness, Mobile Recreation Program, Partnership Carson City and the All Stars Program at the Ron Wood Family Resource Center.
Rombardo applauded Carson Middle School's uniform policy which began this year, saying he hoped that all Carson schools would do the same.
Rombardo also pushed for all-day kindergarten and early-childhood development classes.
"It is time to stop putting our heads in the sand with regard to all-day kindergarten. The more we can put our children in a safe, organized environment, the less likely they are to commit crime," he said. "I have studies that show that early childhood development has been proven nationwide to reduce crime by 60 percent for those children involved in those programs."
Prosecutors also now use gang enhancements - which adds time to a sentence - on any crime they charge that's gang related.
"We must do whatever it takes to prevent children from accepting the gang lifestyle," he said. "This is not a culture. This is insidious."
Quality of Life Chairman Phillip Harrison noted crime will continue to decrease with more effective initiatives to combat gang violence in Carson City, such as one patterned after a similar movement in Salinas, Calif., to give each child in Carson City a library card.
"Do we still have gang-related issues in Carson City? Yes. Are they as bad as they used to be? No," said Phillips. "Can we let down our guard? No."
Also Yolanda Gonzales of Sen. Harry Reid's office presented both Furlong and District Attorney Neil Rombardo with certificates of commendation "for your continued efforts to keep the citizens of Carson city safe by combating gang activity."