SAN JOSE -- In the wake of a string of gang killings, including a 16-year-old boy in broad daylight, the San Jose Police Department plans to resurrect its dedicated gang-suppression team as the cornerstone of a plan to quell what could be a turbulent summer in the city.

Police brass announced Friday the launch of a three-phase plan starting this weekend with the saturation of gang-plagued neighborhoods, followed by an ongoing increase in regular gang patrols. The department plans to recreate an anti-gang unit, a duty currently shared between the special-enforcement METRO and MERGE (SWAT) teams.

Each year street gangs are responsible for nearly half of the city's homicides and a large share of violent crime.

"Obviously as a department it's our job to reduce crime across the board. But the specifics of some of the gang homicides and assaults that we're seeing, and some of the feedback we're getting from the community, there's definitely a sense of urgency," police spokesman Sgt. Jason Dwyer said.

The department successfully employed a similar strategy two years ago, when the homicide count reached 26 for the first half of the year, 14 of them attributed to gangs. Then-Police Chief Chris Moore ordered METRO -- tasked with gangs, drug dealing and other vice crimes -- to focus on "all gangs, all the time," blanketing gang hot spots with patrols, conducting impromptu probation searches on gang members and more closely tracking gang patterns.


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That year ended with 41 homicides, but there were no gang-related homicides during the summer.

This year is similar: The city had recorded 25 homicides as of Friday, eight of them gang-related. The city is on pace to exceed last year's 46 homicides, a two-decade high.

The new tactics can't come fast enough. As acting Chief Larry Esquivel and his top brass were finalizing their plan Thursday, 16-year-old Manuel Urzoua died after being beaten and shot in the head in a brazen daylight gang attack the day before near King and Story roads.

Adding to the public anxiety over city violence is that at least two of the year's gang slayings involved victims with no gang ties who were targeted at random. Gregorio Ogana, 56, was viciously stabbed to death in the twilight hours of June 13 by three alleged gang members in front of his Checkers Drive home in East San Jose as he returned from completing a swing shift.

Police say the three suspects, including a 17-year-old, were looking to rob somebody and that Ogana had the bad luck of crossing their paths.

"He is a legitimate victim. Upstanding citizen, loving husband, hard worker, well liked," said Officer Albert Morales, also a police spokesman.

The same went for 44-year-old Donald Harvey, who was stabbed to death Jan. 24 in the driveway of an apartment complex on Southside Drive off Senter Road by four gang members, one them also 17 years old.

These cases, both of which have yielded arrests, are particularly troubling to residents because they strike at the heart of many people's public-safety worries -- that even if you keep a healthy distance from risky situations like gang life, violence still might find you.

"It strikes fear in our community," Morales said. "It's senseless violence."

This weekend won't be the Police Department's first surge against gangs this year: In response to six homicides occurring in the last week of May, 50 extra officers flooded gang neighborhoods the following weekend to quell fomenting tensions.

The first phase of the new plan calls for the deployment of 20 extra two-person gang patrol units along with detectives from the gang investigations unit. All the officers will be working overtime. Police say the plan calls for an additional 40 to 45 officers deployed throughout the week.

By August, the department plans to create a gang-suppression unit to be on the streets during peak hours seven days a week, focusing on performing high-visibility enforcement against gangs. Three years ago the department cut its Violent Crime Enforcement Team, whose sole focus was suppressing gang violence.

The new strategy is ambitious given the Police Department is sorely undermanned following a years-long exodus of officers via resignations and early retirements amid pay cuts and an acrimonious pension-reform fight. There are just under 1,100 officers in the department -- a far cry from more than 1,400 four years ago -- with about 900 available for full duty.

"It all looks like a very reasonable approach that the chief is taking, given the relatively limited resources he's got to work with. He's deploying them in the most effective way possible," Mayor Chuck Reed said.

Sgt. Jim Unland, president of the San Jose Police Officers' Association, agreed that the plan is a nimble response, but expressed concern about exhausting officers already stretched thin in their day jobs.

"The chief is doing the best he can with what he has," Unland said. "I don't know how long we can expect to keep this Band-Aid fix with overtime. At some point you just hit a wall."

Contact Mark Gomez at 408-920-5869. Follow him at Twitter.com/MarkMGomez. Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.