On Feb. 28, California rolled out a brand new hotline. According to the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), “Californians who have pesticide complaints can now call one toll-free phone number for help.” The new number is: 1-877-378-5463. When people call this number, they are transferred to their local county agricultural commissioner’s office and they are provided recorded information in English and Spanish.
Apparently, the DPR is trying to find a simple way of addressing the public’s numerous complaints and problems related to pesticide exposure. Now, anyone who is exposed to toxins can call one simple number to connect easily to the information needed. Ventura County should take note. Locally, hotlines could be set up for a variety of problems. But the hotline that is most urgently needed is a simple 1-800 number for gang violence.
Imagine a scenario for using such a hotline. On his way home from school, a high school student is attacked by three young men claiming allegiance to a gang. He arrives home beaten and bruised. He does not want his mother to call the cops for fear of retaliation. (He knows all three men who attacked him.) So, his mother calls the gang violence hotline to get advice.
After she dials the number, a calm, automated voice answers and says, “Hello and welcome to Ventura County’s Gang Violence Hotline. If you or someone you know has been the victim of gang violence, press 1. If your property or vehicle has been vandalized, press 2. If you are currently a gang member and would like confidential counseling about how to get help, press 3. If you would like to leave an anonymous tip about an act of gang-related violence, press 4. If you are bleeding or injured, please hang up and dial 9-1-1 immediately.”
After listening to her options, the mother presses “1,” and speaks anonymously to a counselor who connects her to a police officer. Such a hotline would give victims of gang violence, current gang members, family members or others the ability to remain anonymous while giving tips, getting counseling or finding other resources. Why does Ventura County need such a hotline?
Because, by all accounts, gang violence in Ventura County is escalating. Right now, the community needs to find creative, useful solutions that help the victims without perpetuating the cycle of violence. A local gang violence hotline is only one step, but it could be a relatively inexpensive way to get help for people in need. However, a phone number alone is not enough. In order to stop gangs from growing, schools, police departments, parents, community activists and youth organizations first need to prioritize this growing threat.
As Los Angles Police Department Chief William J. Bratton said in a Jan. 4 L.A. Times article about his city’s escalating gang violence, it’s time to “get angry.” According to the article, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa asked for federal funds to deal with the 14 percent increase in gang violence that occurred in the “gang capital of the world” in 2006. The article also quoted critics of the city’s past gang policing efforts saying that not enough work is done to prevent young people from joining gangs in the first place.
While a gang violence hotline could act as a lifeline for those already knee-deep in the lifestyle, it does not address the basic problem of gangs. The real problem is how can the community keep local kids from joining gangs in the first place? The answer: another hotline. But instead of the Gang Violence Hotline, it should be called the I’m Bored and There’s Nothing to Do Hotline.