Bakersfield Police Capt. Joe Mullins speaks with an unidentified participant at the 3C/Bakersfield Safe Streets Partnership meeting held Tuesday at Larry E. Reider building in downtown Bakersfield.

Steven Mayer/ The Californian

The 2-square-mile neighborhood has seen more than its share of gunplay and bloodshed.

Sandwiched between California Avenue and Brundage Lane, Chester Avenue and Washington Street, this relatively small patch of homes and parks, churches and schools, saw 24 gang-related shootings in 2015. The following year, that number rose to 26.

But halfway through 2016, the Board of State and Community Corrections awarded a grant of more than $517,000 to the Bakersfield Police Department and several community partners in an effort to reduce gang violence, build collaborative partnerships within the community, and improve the often-strained relationship between police and residents of this embattled Bakersfield neighborhood.

Mercifully, in 2017 the number of gang shootings was nearly cut in half — to 14. Did the grant and associated efforts on the ground play a key role in reducing violence?

"Without a doubt," said Bakersfield Police Department Sgt. Daniel McAfee.

On Tuesday, community partners from area churches and ministries, nonprofit organizations, former gang members and a representative from the Kern County District Attorney's Office gathered with McAfee and BPD Capt. Joe Mullins at the Larry E. Reider Education Center in downtown Bakersfield to try to maintain the downward trend in 2018.

"If a young man is growing up there," Pastor Josephate Jordan, of Christ First Ministries, said of the city's toughest neighborhoods, "they're either in the gang or they're out of the gang. There's very little in-between space."

Elements of the grant include police officers and neighborhood residents training together in such concepts as procedural justice and implicit bias. Implicit, or unconscious, bias is the bias in judgment or behavior that results from subtle attitudes and stereotypes that often operate at a level below conscious awareness.

Mentoring relationships are key, Mullins said. And he credited several community partners for reaching out to families and youths who are at risk.

The group of about two dozen talked about a recent gang call-in, during which active gang members are invited in hopes of creating connections that may someday help break the cycle of violence.

Most who attended said the call-in was worthwhile, but the atmosphere was nevertheless unsettled and tense.

"It was successful, but something was happening, something internal," said Cynthia Zimmer, a current candidate for district attorney and longtime supervisor of the D.A.'s Gang Prosecution taskforce.

"You could have cut the tension with a knife," she said.

Mullins, who knows how to use humor to cut through tension, said working with gang members will never be easy.

"This ain't the "Little Rascals,'" he said.

Goal No. 1 of the grant is to reduce the number of gang-related shootings in the city, especially in these troubled neighborhoods.

Maybe, just maybe, it's working.

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

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