The discussion was energized, the ideas careening across the squared circle of 30 participants, each intent on cutting the body count and reducing the incidence of violence in the world of criminal street gangs.

"We can't be discouraged. We're never going to give up on them," said Bakersfield Police Department Sgt. Daniel McAfee, who was at Tuesday night's meeting of the Bakersfield Safe Streets Partnership, held at the Larry E. Reider building in downtown Bakersfield.

Since 2011, this eclectic gathering of cops, clergy, former gang members, county prosecutors, educators, mentors, probation officers and community activists have shared efforts and ideas in an effort to accomplish what sometimes must seem impossible.

Wesley Davis, who lost his 6-year-old son, Wendale, to gang violence in 2006, said they have to find ways to connect with employers willing to take a chance on giving a job to a former street kid with a record.

True, agreed Juan Avila, who was there representing Garden Pathways. But Avila said the potential employee would first need to do the work necessary -- lots of work -- before he could expect a local company to hire him.

"If I was an employer and saw the behavior of some of those guys at the last call-in, I wouldn't take the chance," he said. "Do we want to set up our clients for failure or success?"

BPD Capt. Joe Mullins, one of the founders of the partnership, agreed that employment is essential.

But no one expects employers to hire a felon until that individual has been fully rehabilitated and has proven his willingness to do what it takes to engage in society.

"First, let them know what they're getting into," said Manuel Carrizales, a former banger and longtime president of Stay Focused Ministries.

"It's not college," he said. "They did go to Pen State, but it's not the one you're thinking."

The partnership uses what they refer to as gang call-ins to invite current and former gang members to special meetings in an attempt to communicate, and maybe appeal to their sense of right and wrong. The Californian has covered some of these efforts, and it's immediately clear that it's an uphill battle.

There were calls for more innovation, more creative efforts to crack the cycle of violence. McAfee talked about kids who haven't even reached high school age being recruited into one of several gangs in the city.

The hierarchy of some of these young gangs is uncertain because they have little structure, police say. That makes identifying the so-called shot callers that much more difficult.

Community activist Marvin Pettiford, who sits on the Justice Committee at St. Paul's Church, said as tough as it is, the members of the partnership cannot get discouraged, even when they disagree on the details.

"Everybody seems to be pulling in the same direction," he said.

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

(1) comment

bakersman54

Yesterday I made a trip to Kern County Library, while I was looking through newspaper, I noticed young people, later teens to early 30's taking their GED exams. I listened to what these individuals were saying, trying to improve themselves, and get a better job! Small programs like this helps our community prosper and keep people off the streets. When I left there were about 10 people taking the test.

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