Police deepen investigation into recent shootings, step up patrols

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Police are saying that a series of recent Richmond related shootings could be the result of an escalation of a longstanding feud between Richmond’s Deep-C gang and a gang in North Richmond. Captain Mark Gagan, commander of Richmond’s Central District, said police “highly suspected” the recent shootings in San Francisco and North Richmond were related.

23-year-old central Richmond resident Joshua McClain was shot and killed in San Francisco on March 27. A second Richmond resident survived with non life-threatening injuries. Over the subsequent three days 5 people were felled by gunfire in North Richmond; two of the victims—21-year-old Ervin Coley III and 22-year-old Jerry Owens—died from their injuries.

Shooting victims in these kinds of gang feuds are not necessarily gang members. Police say many retaliatory attacks don’t target specific individuals or even those involved in gangs. Rather, gang members will drive into rival gang territory and fire at any young man out on the streets.

“Whether or not there is retaliation violence that has occurred, it’s not as important as the fact that some of those people perceive it to be what’s happened,” said Gagan. He also said the violence seems to have fueled a feud between a gang in North Richmond—known as Project Trojans—and Central Richmond’s Deep-C gang.

In the wake of these apparent gang-related shootings and homicides, police have responded by increasing the number of officers patrolling the city’s streets to prevent additional retaliatory attacks and are working more closely with other local police departments who may have information related to the ongoing violence.

In an effort to pre-empt any further violence, Richmond police were present in North Richmond this weekend for the wake and funeral of Owens and Coley, and said that no major incidents occurred at those events.

While increasing neighborhood patrols is “a one-dimensional approach to stop retaliation, it’s effective in that people cannot easily drive across town, gunned up, and shoot somebody,” said Gagan while addressing the city’s Police Commissioners in their monthly meeting last Wednesday.

Lieutenant Arnold Threets of Richmond PD’s Special Investigations Division, said this feud in particular is very challenging because it involves both city and county land. “One half of the problem is jurisdictionally under the control of the Sheriff’s Office and the other half of the problem is ours,” he said. (For a detailed report on the complexities of policing unincorporated North Richmond, see Robert Roger’s article here.)

“Our bad guys go over into their jurisdiction and commit murders, commit crimes, and retaliation, their subjects do the same,” Threets said.

Gagan was pleased with the department’s immediate response to the violence but said that police haven’t always been so quick to action. “We usually take this posture after we’ve had four or five homicides and 10 shootings in a month or in a six-week period,” he said.

This time police were able to activate their resources much sooner and Gagan says the department has improved its “ability to be listening to the word on the street, the rumors, the tension, and have our finger on the pulse of why people are going to retaliate.”

Police have information coming to them through community members throughout the city, including property managers and tenants, the Office of Neighborhood Safety—a city organization that works on violence prevention—and also local law enforcement agencies, including San Francisco Police Department and the county Sheriff’s Office.

Both Threets and Gagan said they are in continual contact with Lt. Mark Williams, field commander for county police operations in unincorporated North Richmond.

Although Richmond police are helping with the investigation, they say that so far all of the recent suspected feud-related violence has taken place on the county side of North Richmond. “We have not had not any homicides in our jurisdiction in the last month that we feel is part of the feud that’s been going on between North Richmond and a central gang,” Gagan said last Wednesday.

Just two days later, on April 8, a Hispanic male was shot and killed just outside the northern tip of Central Richmond’s Iron Triangle on the 1400 block of Dunn Avenue. Less than 12 hours later another man was shot and wounded in the heart of the Iron Triangle on the 500 block of Harbour Way. But Gagan said the murder victim was not affiliated with either of the gangs that are involved in the ongoing feud. He said he believes the shootings that occurred this past weekend do not “tie into the overall big picture that there is a feud brewing between North Richmond and Deep-C.”

“If we start linking incidents that unfortunately did occur in the district but were unrelated, everybody starts picking up on that—other media outlets—and it starts getting out of control. I can’t link either of the shootings to the feud that we are monitoring,” Gagan said.

The April 8 shooting brings the number of homicides in the city this year to four. The first three homicides all occurred in the city’s southern district; this most recent homicide is the first in central district in several months. Redevelopment, better policing, the work of the Office of Neighborhood Safety and stronger community participation have been credited for a dramatic reduction in violence in the city’s central district.

Last year there were a total of five homicides in Central Richmond, and the year before there were nearly 30, said Gagan. Citywide, there were nine homicides at this point in time in 2010 and 13 in 2009.

In addition to putting more boots on the ground, Gagan says he has modified the hours of his officers who do foot patrols, is increasing the number of officers on bikes, and is using undercover plainclothes officers in rental cars to report suspicious activity to patrol officers. He said it is not a long-term strategy, but hopes the effort will pull the city’s gang members off balance and thwart any possible retaliatory violence.

*Tomorrow we will have a report about sustained efforts by police and community leaders in the city to prevent violence before it starts.

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