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Vista residents sound off over growing gang problem

VISTA, Calif. -- The North County Gang Commission held a town hall meeting Thursday night to discuss what they’re doing to fight Vista's growing gang problem.

The event comes as gang prosecutors are seeing a high number of graffiti, drug and property crimes in the city. But Vista’s gang problem goes beyond the city limits. With roughly 200 gang members and no rivals in town, members often head into neighboring communities like Escondido for confrontations, said the commission.

“The days are longer. It’s warmer and crime goes up. We know that statistically,” said Laurie Hauf with the commission.

The town hall comes on the heels of a recent major crackdown on violent street gangs all across San Diego County. More than 140 gang members now facing federal charges are accused of terrorizing neighborhoods with shootings, robberies and other crimes. The recent investigation helped to identify and locate the suspected killer of Cathy Kennedy, who was shot by gang gunfire in March as she drove home from church in Escondido.

“These gangs are destroying our children,” said one audience member. “We need to fight for the same cause.”

The commission is also trying new ways to help members make the transition out of gangs, like offering free tattoo removal.