The Modesto Police Department's efforts to divert young people away from gangs got a boost Friday from a $191,000 state grant to expand an existing scared-straight program.
The money will be used to add more available spots for the Wake Up program, designed to offer positive choices to youths with behavioral problems at school or home.
Modesto Police Chief Mike Harden said the grant will also be used to add a gang component to the program, making it available to young people who already are involved in gang activity or criminal behavior.
"We want to get these people exposed to alternatives to their bad choices," Harden said.
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The Modesto grant is part of the governor's California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention initiative, which was launched in 2007. The governor's office on Friday awarded $9.2 million in grants to 24 cities to help them combat gangs.
"These grants will help strengthen our statewide anti-gang efforts by giving our local communities greater resources to fight and prevent gang activity," Gov. Schwarzenegger said in a news release.
Through the governor's Office of Gang and Youth Violence Policy, the state will work with cities to implement tested practices.
In Modesto, Wake Up is an intervention and prevention program for at-risk youths ages 10 to 17 years old. The program's eight weekly classes are led by a Modesto police officer with 25 available spots.
The classes consist of presentations by law enforcement officials, educators, a coroner official and anyone else who can teach the students that choosing a criminal lifestyle has serious consequences.
The program is free, but it's required that a parent and the youth make a commitment to participate each week. The youths are referred to the program through school and law enforcement officials.
The Modesto Police Department was awarded a similar $383,000 state grant last year to supplement its enforcement and education programs. To receive an anti-gang grant two consecutive years speaks to the severity of the problem, Harden said.
The recently named police chief said he has made the gang issue his highest priority, reorganizing gang enforcement and investigation teams while pushing for educational programs to steer kids away from violence.
"We're using education, intervention and enforcement," Harden said. "We're trying to attack this issue on a number of different levels."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.