REDWOOD CITY — San Mateo County probation officers are being inundated with gang cases as a result of crackdowns on such activity by the countywide gang task force that launched over the summer, a probation department manager said.

In the first two months, the task force netted nearly 200 arrests of gang members. About six months later, probation officers are flooded with cases involving gang members now being released from jail after the task force sweep.

"In an average month, we used to see two or three new gang members, typically new probations," said Tim Gatto, probation services manager at the county's East Palo Alto probation office. "Recently, in the past several months, we're seeing 10, 15 new gang members a month here in East Palo Alto, and there's more coming in to the South City office.

"It's the direct result of the increased enforcement that began this summer," Gatto said. "And we continue to see the upswing, too."

Gang members have joined sex offenders as the probation department's top priority in the county, where every branch of law enforcement is working together to squash gang violence.

The success of the program has resulted in a greater burden for law enforcement agencies, jails and the courts, according to Gatto.

San Mateo County District Attorney James Fox says the "phenomenal success" of the gang task force has prompted him to increase the number of prosecutors who try gang cases.


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Additionally, because of a "heightened awareness to the severity to the gang problems," prosecutors are making more of an effort to convict gang members with a gang enhancement charge that can increase a prison sentence by up to 10 years.

The process, Fox said, is very labor intensive. Police officers and investigators have to do more work so that prosecutors can prove beyond a reasonable doubt an individual's ties to a criminal street gang.

Fox said a year-and-a-half ago, he had one part-time deputy district attorney assigned to handle gang cases. Today, there is one full-time prosecutor devoted to gang crimes, five more assigned on a part-time basis and a supervisor.

Fox said he's satisfied with the amount of staff and resources in the District Attorney's Office going toward the county's gang problem.

Gatto, however, said the probation department could benefit from more officers.

One reason, he said, is that probation officers have less time to supervise individuals convicted of classes of crimes that are not on the county's priority list, such as burglary.

"It used to be 40 to 50 cases, now it's more like 60 to 70 cases per officer," Gatto said. "It's not just gangs, it's other serious felonies like sex offenders, drug dealers, identity theft. We can't ignore those people, but meanwhile we have most of our resources going into gang members because of the level of violence and the threat they pose to the community."

The San Mateo County Jail also faces its challenges as a result of the gang task force's success. Gatto says gang members are becoming more sophisticated in the way they share information and interact with each other in the jail.

Special effort has to be made on a daily basis to keep rival gang members apart, to prevent recruitment within the jail, and to prevent communicating gang messages inside the jail and to the outside.

"Everyone has to be alert at all times to deal with the situations,' Gatto said, "and it takes a lot of manpower."

Contact staff writer Malaika Fraley at (650) 306-2425 or by e-mail at mfraley@sanmateocountytimes.com.