Gang crimes in Desert Hot Springs have declined in the last few months, according to the police department.
Authorities credit the drop off to the crackdown on the West Drive Locos gang. which they said is responsible for the June stabbing of 23-year-old Jose Villalobos.
Villalobos was savagely attacked and killed while leaving a family party
Eight teenage suspects are in custody and awaiting a preliminary hearing in superior court for their roles in the Villalobos killing, and almost all of them are being tried as adults.
They will also be charged with being active gang members of a criminal street gang.
The Police Department said it is sending a message to local gangs, and those gangs have apparently received the message.
One of the suspects awaiting trial is just 13-years-old. By California law, he can’t be charged as adult. But if convicted in the slaying, he is looking at decades behind bars.
“It was a brutal attack on an innocent man, and it involved people that were out of control,” said Sgt. Dan Bressler with the Desert Hot Springs Police Department.
Bressler said the department went after the teens responsible for the killing aggressively.
Still, he said more suspects could be arrested in connection to this crime.
Witnesses are assisting in the investigation.
“People are willing to come forward,” he said. “When that happens, we can get some of these people off the streets.”
More than a year ago, the Desert Hot Springs Police Department conducted Operation Falling Sun.
“We took scores of gang members off the streets,” said Bressler.
That in combination with this latest sweep has led to a reduction in gang crimes, police said.
“That makes me happy because I have kids,” said Catherine Engebretson, a Desert Hot Springs resident for seven years. “My kids are going to be going to school in this town.”
Engebretson said at one point going shopping was a risk to her life. But that’s no longer the case.
She said charging teens as adults for violent crimes has led to safer streets.
“They’re enhancing their crimes with gang crimes,” she said. “That’s a great message to send, especially for young kids that are getting into gangs.”
“What we get a lot is the parents of these 13- or 14-year-olds who say ‘He’s out of control. There’s nothing I can do,” said Bressler.
And, that may be true. But Bessler said something could have been done when they were 8- or 9-years-old.
Boys and Girls Club athletic director Rey Mancilla agreed.
“We encourage them to be great,” he said. “We encourage them to reach for the stars. There’s no limit to what you can become.”
Mancilla said hanging out at the Boys and Girls Club, playing pool and other sports is an affordable option to hanging out on the streets.
“We’re are developing kids to become better citizens,” he explained. “We’re giving them goals, giving them things that they could look forward to in life.”
“Desert Hot Springs has changed,” said Bressler. “If there’s a crime in Desert Hot Springs, we’re going to go after people and we’re going to get people from the city to help us catch these people.”
News Channel 3 contacted members of the Villalobos family for this report.
They didn’t feel comfortable speaking on-camera before the trial because of safety reasons.
However, they said they are following this case closely.