With victim's family members seated in the background, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson speaks during a press conference at the Sacramento Police Department in Sacramento on Thursday, February 18, 2016. Randall Benton rbenton@sacbee.com
With victim's family members seated in the background, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson speaks during a press conference at the Sacramento Police Department in Sacramento on Thursday, February 18, 2016. Randall Benton rbenton@sacbee.com

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Mayor’s anti-gang effort tries to improve reading to reduce crime

By Nashelly Chavez

nchavez@sacbee.com

August 24, 2016 06:18 PM

The Sacramento Mayor’s Gang Prevention and Intervention Task Force plans to zero in on children’s suspension rates and reading proficiency as part of its effort to curb gang activity in the city, Khaalid Muttaqi, the program’s director, announced Tuesday night to the Sacramento City Council.

“In order to break the cycle, this is the pivotal point where we have to succeed,” Muttaqi said. “That’s why we are focusing on third grade literacy specifically and academic achievement in general.”

Instead of depending on law enforcement to snuff out gang activity, the task force undertakes prevention and intervention tactics within communities and schools to reach high-risk children.

Part of the task force’s efforts includes looking at citywide data to gauge how Sacramento’s children fare in grade-level reading proficiency. According to Muttaqi, 78 percent of students who are not reading at grade level by fourth grade never catch up. Poor reading proficiency is an indicator for future juvenile delinquency, he said.

The task force also intends to look at how often students are suspended and how that might contribute to a school-to-prison pipeline, Muttaqi said.

“It typically starts by young students being suspended by disproportionate rates and that contributes to the cycle of delinquency,” he said.

So far, the task force has partnered with Sacramento area school districts to gather data on suspension and reading proficiency rates, he said.

Three districts in particular – the Sacramento City Unified School District, the Twin Rivers Unified School District and the Robla School District – have agreed to participate in a pilot program called Gang Resistance Education and Training Program, to gather more information about high-risk students.

The task force was first started by Mayor Kevin Johnson following the shooting of two people, including a young mother, outside a south Sacramento barbershop in December 2010. It was granted $1 million from the city’s budget last year.

Of that money, $680,000 has gone to 18 community-based nonprofits partnering with the task force through the 2016 Task Force Grant Program, with each nonprofit providing resources to at-risk youths in target areas. Some of those grantees include the Boys and Girls Club, the South Sacramento Christian Center and Reading Partners.

Besides collecting large-scale data, Muttaqi said the task force also hopes to look at individual responses from the youth that participate in the program to better understand how the task force’s efforts are aiding them, and to identify what work still needs to be done.

In a midyear summary that Muttaqi presented to the board on Tuesday, he said there have been 2,054 youths who have been recipients of services provided by the task force. Of the children served by the program, 75 percent are from Hispanic and African American backgrounds, he said.

Moving forward, Muttaqi said the task force hopes to establish a long-term presence in the community and is seeking federal grants totaling $3.3 million to provide additional resources to expand the program’s funding.

“It definitely takes a long-term framework,” Muttaqi said. “That’s why I’m really glad to have the council’s support, to have that long-term vision. It’s not something we’re going to solve with a magic wand overnight.”

Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets