The Corner

Authorities Opt for Counterinsurgency

Not in Afghanistan — in Salinas, Calif.:

Counterinsurgency Plan To Fight Gangs

The birthplace of author John Steinbeck, and home to sprawling fields of vegetables, now faces one of the worst per capita gang problems in America.

Police say the 24 homicides in Salinas, Calif. this year — all gang-related — make the city twice as deadly as Los Angeles.

Frustrated city officials are now turning to the military for help, collaborating with combat vets and faculty at the Naval Postgraduate School in nearby Monterey to adapt counter-insurgency techniques that have worked overseas to address gang violence at home. Military software developed to track terrorists is also being used to map crimes and link suspects.

Veterans helping police put this program together say there are many parallels between fighting terrorists overseas and murderous gangbangers at home. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the goal is getting the locals to work with the military against the bad guys. In Salinas, residents need to trust the cops, so they’ll report crimes and make the gangs unwelcome.

It’s a long term strategy that relies on winning hearts and minds, and with an estimated one-million gang members nationwide, other cities plagued by youth violence are watching closely to see if this experiment pays off — reducing crime, strengthening communities and, hopefully, saving lives.

Of course, the first sentence kind of misses the point — Salinas “now faces one of the worst per capita gang problems in America” precisely because it’s “home to sprawling fields of vegetables,” which “cheap” foreign labor was imported to pick.

For a detailed examination of immigrant gangs, see “Taking Back the Streets: ICE and Local Law Enforcement Target Immigrant Gangs,” by my colleagues Jessica Vaughan and Jon Feere.