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How bad is the gang problem in the Rogue Valley?

Jackson County Juvenile Community Justice is planning to kick off a study to determine the severity of gang activity in the Rogue Valley.

The study, which will be conducted by Juvenile Service Center officials, is needed to apply for federal grants that would go to community justice organizations. "If you haven't done the community assessment, you can't even apply. That's been one of the hang-ups," said Joe Ferguson, Juvenile Service Center deputy director. "We have no money that's directed toward this. It will really just be our time."

The study will include interviews with gang members and community leaders, student surveys from every Jackson County school, parent focus groups and inventories of community resources. Some Southern Oregon University criminal justice students will assist in the data compilation.

"It's really just to gather all that and see what some of the perceptions are of what our gang activity is from non-law enforcement," Ferguson said. "Part of doing the assessment is to see what the general public or community believes the gang problem is. We're working on assumptions now."

Police have responded to several incidents in the second half of 2011 that were possibly gang-related. A June stabbing in Phoenix left one man dead. A clash between rival members of the Sureños and Norteños gangs along South Columbus Avenue in August led to several men being arrested on riot charges. A Central Point shooting in early November that left one man critically injured and one dead in a car crash that followed may have been part of a Norteños gang ritual, police have said.

"We have seen gang-related activities for a number of years. It seems to spike here and there," said Lt. Bob Hansen of the Medford Police Department. "Recently, we've had a couple of instances that have brought it to light."

A key reason for compiling the data is to get a better understanding of how federal grant funds would be used in the community.

"We can always use more resources. Then we can get into the proactive end instead of the reactive," Hansen said, adding that community programs such as Kids Unlimited already are taking that approach.

Juvenile justice officials said they are trying to set up meetings with school district superintendents to make time for student surveys.

"We're trying to break up the different collection areas into having a leader in each one of those," Ferguson said. "We're probably looking at over the next year of trying to gather all this information."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com.