Gang-related violence and crime in Goleta will soon draw special attention from local law agencies, following a decision Monday afternoon by the Goleta City Council to accept a grant that would provide for the creation of a Gang Enforcement Officer.

The $100,000 grant from the Citizens Option for Public Safety (COPS) – a state program that provides funds for front-line municipal law enforcement projects – will allow the city of Goleta to hire a contract officer to focus specifically on gang-related incidents in the area. Council members also allocated $50,000 toward maintenance costs at Girsh Park, despite concerns about the impact on the city’s budget.

Lt. Chris Pappas, chief of police services for Goleta, said the city applied for the state-funded grant in 2004 and was awarded enough funding to hire an officer who will focus solely on local gang enforcement.

“Grant funds have been used to fund a gang deputy position for Goleta by way of contract,” Pappas said. “The gang deputy would interdict gang activities and interact with other enforcement officers throughout the county. ”

According to Santa Barbara County’s 2005 Comprehensive Multiagency Juvenile Justice Plan, 2,036 juveniles in the county have “been identified by law enforcement as gang involved.” In Santa Barbara and Goleta, assaults by gang members on law enforcement officers have increased by 50 percent, with local gang-related arrests increasing by 95 percent in the last three years. Local officials suspect that the gang problem that already exists could increase with an influx of gang activity from Ventura County, the plan states.

Despite the allocation of the $50,000 toward Girsh Park’s maintenance, council members voiced their concerns that the city’s budget could not guarantee annual funding to maintenance of the private-owned but publicly accessible park. The request for the additional funds was deferred last year while park employees calculated the yearly cost of park maintenance, and was made at the 2 p.m. meeting by three representatives of the park, including Girsh Park director Lisa Fricano.

City councilman Jonny D. Wallis said he thinks Goleta’s financial resources have been drained by recent events, such as the increase in the amount the city pays for its insurance.

Jack Hauxhurst, city councilman, said he supports funding the park on a one-time only basis, but the city’s financial problems could prevent it from establishing annual financial support.

“We have a $62,000 increase on our insurance now,” Hauxhurst said. “There are also other issues we have to consider.”

Goleta Mayor Jean Blois said she also supports the one-time only funding but wants to review the park’s future funding requests carefully before granting them. She also announced that she wants a city council member or officer to attend future meetings of the Girsh Park Board in order to facilitate better communication between the council and park staff.