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Parents key to fighting gangs
Robert Sharma had a front row seat to the start of the C-Town Boys gang two decades ago, and said if it wasn't for the strong parenting presence of his mother, he may have ended up in jail rather than putting gangsters there.
Following the divorce of his parents, Sharma said his mother insisted he be part of a number of activities, including 4-H cooking.
"I was always around this stuff ... My friends started C-Town. I've seen jump-ins. I've been attacked by gang members," Sharma said.
"I don't know where I would be if it wasn't for my mother," added Sharma, who is a father of two, and admittedly more protective now than ever.
"I remember I could ride my bike until 9 p.m. and my dad would whistle and I would go home and watch 'Dukes of Hazzard' and all would be cool the rest of the night," Sharma said.
"My children never leave me."
The Colusa native, who is a Sutter County probation officer and Yuba-Sutter gang task force member, delivered an eye-opening presentation on gang awareness with an exclamation point that parents need to be involved in their children's lives.
"The point of my story is interaction and participation is the key. We can go out and kick ass and drag people to jail all we want, and it won't stop it," Sharma said.
"Reach out and touch (the children). ... Ask them if there is anything you can do. If you see a kid who needs something, step up and reach out," he said.
Sharma's multi-media presentation, however, was delivered mostly to those who are already involved at one level or another in gang awareness, intervention and enforcement.
Missing, Colusa police Chief Ross Stark said, were the parents. "I was disappointed we didn't have more parents, because parents are the target we wanted," said Stark. "Educators got some good information ... but it was sad we didn't have more parents there because I think they are in denial about what their children are doing."
Also conspicuosly missing were decision-makers such as school board members, county supervisors and city council members, some of whom made gang awareness a part of their recent campaigns.
The shooting death of a 14-year-old Colusa boy, what investigators are saying was a gang-on-gang incident on Aug. 23, has heightened the awareness that Colusa and other communities in the county do have a gang issue.
Sharma's presentation included a mixture of his own professional experiences with unfiltered slideshows, videos and music examples — one rap song actually referring to a bust Sharma was involved with in Yuba City.
Photos of children, some as young as 4 or 5 in gang attire, certainly received an emotional reaction from the sparse crowd that gathered at Egling Middle School.
Sara Martin, a Colusa police officer, said the youngest she has come across in town is a 10-year-old.
Similarly, a list of crimes that are associated with gang activity — many violent such as murder and rape — also raised the attention level, especially after Stark said he quickly counted nine with which his department has direct experience — including the murder case.
Sharma said he has seen all of them in Yuba-Sutter, and it was only a matter of time before the others on the list would touch Colusa County.
Mostly, though, the presentation gave a bit of history on gangs, and showed the the kind of symbols, clothing and other information that will help parents, educators and the community residents in general identify a gang presence.
Sharma also emphasized the need for schools and other agencies to document all incidents — even notebook doodling — because they may be used at a later time to help build gang-related criminal enhancements that would mean longer prison sentences.
"If it is not on paper, it didn't happen," Sharma said. "Documentation is very important."
Tatoos, graffiti and other symbols, Sharma added, also can teach law enforcement a great deal about that gang member and his gang in general.
To that end, Sharma said while the gang members are proud of their associations, there is a movement away from being as open just to avoid the enhancement charges.
Then Bill Fenton, the head of Colusa County Probation Department, put the chill back into the room.
Fenton said with the likelihood of more state prisioners with gang affiliations returning to or staying in Colusa County due to prison realligment, more and more children will be targeted for recruitment.
He said to avoid being sent back to state prison, adults are looking for surrogates
"So the adults want to enlist more juveniles. It is happening in the bigger counties, but its coming," Fenton said.
Fenton said his department currently has 34 juvenile offenders it is supervising, of whom 28 have gang ties. He noted there is at least one from every school district in the county, and from the Office of Education program, except Maxwell.
The largest group, eight, is from Colusa Unified, four from Williams; two from the Office of Education and Princeton and one from Pierce. The others are out of the public school system.
But Fenton said the department is not just involved in supervising offenders, and has programs to intervene before crims are committed.
"Since the shooting, a lot of people called Probation. They were worried about their children," Fenton said. "The biggest thing is kow where your children are and who they are with."
The event was put on by the Colusa County Gang Operations Team, part of the Colusa County Office of Education. It is a coalition of educators, law enforcement, government agencies and community groups.