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SELMA – Crime continued to be a topic of conversation at the latest Selma City Council meeting. Residents spoke up about ongoing crime activity in town during public comment at the April 2 meeting. While the City’s police chief reported that arrests are being made and new officers are being interviewed, residents complained it’s still not enough.

In other action during the April 2 meeting, the Council also took steps to enact a new no-smoking policy at public areas and events, continued a hearing on a proposed mini-storage project, approved a biking and transportation plan and honored Selma High’s cheer squad.

Police Chief Greg Garner reported that in response to a recent crime spike, he added officers to the night shifts, called in officers with the Fresno County Rural [Multi-Agency Gang Enforcement Consortium] team and even had the Volunteers in Policing members increase their presence during both day and night shifts.

As a result, 62 people had been arrested since mid-March and Garner predicts more are on the way.

“Over that time period since we started this response, we confiscated six handguns, more than 150 rounds of ammunition and arrested 62 people for charges including assault on a police officer, auto theft, home invasion robbery, parole and probation violations, assault, no-bail warrants, possession of stolen property and drug charges,” Garner said. “That number is about 45 percent greater than our average arrest total for that same time span.”

When Mayor Jim Avalos inquired as to whether this spike was a result of out-of-towners coming in to commit crimes, Garner said it was more likely gang members retaliating against each other.

“The players that we’ve been involved with are people from Selma. We have a pretty good idea of the people causing the bulk of this spike in crime. They’re wanted right now and when we catch them, they’ll be in jail for a significant amount of time,” Garner said.

Garner reported that over the past 16 days since March 18, the department received six calls involving shots fired, two where people were struck by gunfire. There were also two commercial robberies and a stabbing.

“We noticed that spike and responded to it and 62 people are in custody that weren’t in custody before,” Garner said. “We still have things planned but we’ve seen a significant drop in the last three days.”

Garner declined to give specifics as to not jeopardize the upcoming police actions.

“It’s going to be an ongoing program. I’ll be reporting on those other things planned at the next council meeting.”

Selma resident Joe Gonzalez’s demands for answers from the council and suggestions that they replace the police chief drew applause from the audience.

“We’ve had three shootings a week, indecent exposures and child abduction attempts. Now, which way are we going and when’s it going to stop? Do we need a new chief?” Gonzalez said. “The crime rate here in Selma is out of hand. I want some answers. Nothing’s being done. What’s going to happen?”

Interim City Manager Henry Perea said he would meet with Gonzalez in person to inform him of the city’s efforts to combat crime.

Avalos pressed for the city’s 10 p.m. curfew to be enforced more to keep children younger than 18 off the streets.

“I’m afraid one of these bullets is going to hit some innocent person. I want to prevent that from happening.

I want to make sure we’re in front of the game,” Avalos said. “They’ve got to be home by 10 o’clock unless it’s a game night or they’re accompanied by a parent. I want to have these kids off the street. I don’t want them involved with gangs.”

Garner said that two curfew operations have been conducted during the school year and “each time, we got less than half a dozen kids picked up. We have others planned and we’ll be doing that in the future, but I agree with you, prevention is a lot better than trying to catch up after a crime has occurred.”

Other prevention efforts Garner reported on were training for concerned parents that will take place this summer and the restart of the inter-faith Bringing Broken Neighborhoods Back to Life block parties.

Smoke-free zones

Council heard a first reading of a new law that will prohibit smoking in areas controlled or owned by the City such as parks, playgrounds, sports fields, walking paths, bike trails and skateboard parks.

“The key to this entire ordinance is the signs,” City Attorney Neal Costanzo said. “If you don’t have those signs, you won’t be able to cite people.”

Residents need to be aware of the new law in order for city staff or police officers to enforce it, Costanzo said. Signs are estimated to cost $40 each but there will be additional costs to install them. Public Works will determine exactly how many signs will be needed and where they should be located.

Organizations promoting the new law say they’ll help pay for the signage though. These include Selma High’s Friday Night Live Club.

Putting up signs at every city event would be impractical, Costanzo said, so likely event sponsors will be tasked with putting up temporary signs during events such as farmer’s markets and parades.

Costanzo said the no-smoking law would apply to tobacco products, marijuana products, vaporizers or e-cigarettes.

Dinuba Avenue Mini-storage

Developers hoping to build a mini-storage facility near the intersection of McCall and Dinuba avenues are asking for more time to see if citizens’ demands for changes can be made.

“We made a number of suggestions to the developer and indicated the likelihood is we may not be able to approve the project at its current state,” Costanzo said. Citizens who live near that intersection say the project needs better traffic flow, landscaping and street widening.

“This will be the last continuance we’ll recommend to the council,” Costanzo said. The matter will be heard at the May 7 Council meeting. “At the time, the developer will be here with the actual plans and pictures for you to look at.”

Active Transportation Plan

Council also approved the Selma Active Transportation Plan aimed at increasing biking and walking throughout the City and providing safer streets for the nearly 7,900 students traveling to school each day.

The Plan will see a Class I biking and pedestrian trail built along the Golden State Corridor. There are $6.6 million high-priority projects and a total of $16.5 million in projects that will be put in place over time. Selma’s plan will be added to the similar plan at the Fresno County regional level and thus will become eligible for Measure C transportation grants.

Selma’s Finance Director Isaac Moreno said approving the plan allows the city to seek grants and other funds to put the plan in place.

“This is the beginning stepping stone of us developing the infrastructure of the City for its [Active Transportation Plan],” Moreno said.

Cheer squad recognized

Selma’s City Hall Chambers turned into an impromptu cheer performance as Selma High’s Cheer Squad was recognized at the beginning of the meeting.

Mayor Avalos thanked the squad for showing school and community spirit by revving up the crowds at school and city functions.

“At the football games or basketball or wherever you’re doing cheers, you bring the best out of people in the community,” Avalos told the squad. “You play better when you hear the cheer. It also brings the best out of the athletes and out of people in our community.”

Selma Unified Superintendent Tanya Fisher introduced the cheerleaders who each shook the hands of Selma’s City Council members, posed for a group picture and then did an impromptu cheer at the mayor’s request.

“If you like it, say go Bears! Go, go, say go!” they chanted for the council.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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