Making the Tri-Valley safer
From human trafficking in Livermore to mothers banding together in Pleasanton to fight drug abuse among their teenagers, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley kept local real estate professionals on the edge of their seats last Friday as she talked about crime and related issues in the Tri-Valley at a meeting hosted by the Valley Real Estate Network.
Although Oakland and the more densely populated areas of the "North County," as she calls it, get the most attention from her office, this area is not squeaky clean. In fact, of the numerous "human trafficking" cases she handled in Alameda County last year, the biggest one came out of Livermore. Pleasanton has big problems, too, especially with youth drugs. She's quick to add, however, that the reported high numbers are also due to an active adult population that is quick to report abuses rather than ignoring them. Parents here are saying they're just not going to let their kids do drugs and have adopted a "tough love" approach that hits hard at the time. Still, O'Malley credits that effort with saving children from the dire consequences of using or dealing in drugs going forward.
She gave a big "shout out" (her words) to Mothers with a Purpose, a Pleasanton group with 175 members that meets regularly in their homes to talk openly about teenage drug-related problems. With few exceptions, O'Malley said, these are high-achieving, smart kids who started raiding their parents' medicine cabinets, looking for prescription drugs, such as oxycontin. When those pills ran out, many turned to street drugs such as heroin and amphetamines, which she described as the real killers. The Mothers group, formed last year to deal with drug addicted children, has received national attention for its willingness to make other parents aware of the support and solutions to what O'Malley called a national epidemic.
With Oakland now No. 3 in the country in terms of human trafficking, it's become a major focus of the District Attorney's Office. O'Malley said her office handled 34 cases last year involving girls from 11 to 18 years old. Arrests are often made in hotels and motels, including here in the Tri-Valley, where "connections" are made through the Internet and Smart Phones. Her office recently created a program called Human Exploitation in Trafficking (HET) Watch, which encourages anyone suspicious of an illegal sex operation to call her office. It's a robust effort that is having such success that law enforcement agencies around the world have been calling O'Malley for more details.
Terminology among law enforcement agencies has also changed when discussing human trafficking and the commercial sex trade. Pimps are now child abusers, children they coerce or force into prostitution are now victims of child abuse, not prostitutes, and even the term "Johns" is out, with those individuals now called child molesters. After all, O'Malley told the Realtors, her husband's name is John and she recognized a few friends in the audience whose first names are John -- all good people whose names shouldn't be associated with those who buy sex for money, she argued.
The Tri-Valley's population is about 220,000 with Alameda County's now 1.6 million. O'Malley, who was sworn in as district attorney in January 2011, has been in the DA's office since 1984. Although crime this year is down somewhat, arrests are not, with driving while intoxicated charges totaling a new high of 1,500 last year. Police also are seeing more gang-related problems in the Tri-Valley, including several stabbings, shootings and a couple of murders in Livermore that O'Malley said were gang-related. Her office recently started a Youth Justice Leadership program with 21 youths from the Tri-Valley participating in the first phase. Their mission is to work with kids in middle school as peer advisors to help them resist pressure from older gang members to use drugs, drink and eventually join up.
O'Malley also asked Realtors to join her in a shared lookout effort to spot "hot spots" of possible criminal activities, especially in unoccupied foreclosed homes that have become a convenient place for illicit and illegal activities. She said she finds most Realtors have the same "eagle-eye" vision as police officers when driving through neighborhoods. Although on different missions, both can quickly spot something that's wrong. Hers was a message that struck home as real estate professionals agreed with the district attorney that a safe Tri-Valley is a great place to call home.