Mayor Swearengin Responds to ‘Unfair and Inaccurate’ Portrayal of City of Fresno in New York Times

The New York Times last week presented an unfair and inaccurate portrayal of the City of Fresno in an article about the “Bulldog” gang. The article was so flawed that I submitted the following rebuttal to the New York Times. The Times has decided not to publish the op-ed.

The City of Fresno is the agribusiness capital of the world. We’ve survived the Great Recession, expanded our manufacturing and retail, attracted new infrastructure investments, and kept our city budget balanced despite tough odds.

And, thanks to our law enforcement personnel, as well as our dedicated community leaders, Fresno streets are safer than any other time in the past decade.

That’s why I take exception to the Times’ recent story about the once formidable Fresno “Bulldog” gang. The Times’ story left the impression that our community is crawling with gang members – all of whom prefer to wear the colors and logo of the Fresno State University “Bulldogs” mascot.

This depiction is far from accurate.

Like many California cities, increasing gang activity over the past decade was a problem. In response, our City’s police department – one of the finest in the nation – launched several initiatives to combat gang crime.

In November 2006, “Operation Bulldog” was initiated as a key component to the Mayor’s Gang Prevention and Intervention Program (MGPI). MGPI incorporated five distinct areas: Prevention, Intervention, Suppression, Rehabilitation, and Economic Development.

It wasn’t enough just to round up gang members and put them in jail. Instead, MGPI’s aim was, and remains, rehabilitation and helping these misguided youth get on the right track to a productive life.

The result? In just the first two years, there were over two thousand, five hundred felony arrests of gang members. But more remarkable - hundreds of gang members opted to leave their gang and take advantage of the help available to them, including tattoo removal, education and GED achievement, job training, and job placement.

In fact, since Operation Bulldog was launched, gang members have been increasingly reluctant to wear the Fresno State Bulldog colors and mascot, out of fear of attention from law enforcement. Those incarcerated gang members identifying themselves with the “Bulldogs” have become scarce.

And, while the Times correctly identifies that the Bulldog gang was responsible for seventy percent of the City’s shootings just a few short years ago, that number has now fallen down to around twenty-five percent, and it’s still declining.

Because of its success, MGPI has been cited as a national model for other cities to follow. Additional programs, such as Fresno Cease Fire’s Call In and federal prosecution under Project Safe Neighborhood, have also helped reduce street violence.

Recent statistics continue to validate the success of Fresno’s anti-gang programs. Violent crime decreased by four percent in 2011, six percent in 2012 and nearly nine percent in 2013’s year-to-date figures.

Our City is proud of our university and its sports programs. But, we’re even more proud of the hard work and excellent results achieved by our police department and others involved in law enforcement.

There is certainly more work to be done; there always is. But, it’s safe to say that Fresno is becoming an even better community to put down roots, raise a family, and start a business.

The only people overrunning our streets today are Fresnans who proudly, and safely, wear the Fresno State Bulldog colors. On Saturdays, these folks gather at Fresno State’s football stadium to create a sea of Bulldog red. When the team is on the road, our sports bars, restaurants, homes, and the ever-popular Doghouse Grill are alive with Bulldog pride.

In fact, just about the only fear being instilled by Fresno “Bulldogs” nowadays is the quick strike offense that Derek Carr and our fifteenth-ranked Fresno State football team brings to their opponents. And that’s okay with the families of Fresno.

Go Dogs!

Ashley Swearengin
Fresno Mayor