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Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Richard Valdemar

Richard Valdemar

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

What Not to Do in Anti-Gang Programs

Amazingly, agencies are willing to spend buckets of money on programs that don't do a thing to combat gangs.

February 15, 2008  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

"Experience keeps a dear school, yet Fools will learn in no other."— Ben Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac 1743

Before my retirement in 2004, I was required to attend another of the many useless administrative meetings imposed by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. As the Supervisor of the Major Crimes Bureau, Prison Gang Unit, I could see very little practical reason to attend, but I soldiered up and attended anyway.

After the official meeting there was the inter-department socializing that usually occurs. My Detective Division Chief, Ronnie Williams, congratulated me on my retirement and commented, "What are we going to do without you, Rich? We are going to lose your 30 years of experience." Then he asked me, "Have you given any thought to who you might suggest to replace you?"

I thanked the Chief, a less than outstanding ex-OSS gang Detective that I once supervised, and replied that in my 33 years of experience this was the first time a Department executive had asked me (its gang expert) for advice on what to do to fight gangs or improve the gang units. Long before this conversation took place, the LASD Gang Unit had become a political football meant "for show" on the evening TV news and watered down to be politically correct.

I don't mean to sound like Los Angeles or I personally have all the answers to the world's gang problems, but during my more than three decades fighting gangs, I have seen many programs in Los Angeles that have failed. I have learned what does and what doesn't work.

The truth is that we know how to be effective against gangs

#1 - Prevention and intervention are always less expensive than any program of arrest, prosecution, incarceration, or rehabilitation. I mean early intervention, starting in Sesame Street and grammar school. Programs like GREAT and DARE, aimed at middle and high school, are too little too late. The lenient juvenile justice system is a complete failure and must be toughened in the early contact years so that it does not continue to produce the child monsters we see in later CYA years.

#2 - The Gang Units must select only the finest candidates. They must target one gang at a time and build "safer zones" as they expand to target the surrounding gangs. They must have a reliable and accessible intelligence database connected to the jail and prison systems. They must avoid being used as a man power pool and avoid saturation patrol as a regular tactic. They must not only selectively prosecute the gang shot callers and the most violent members, but follow the drug sources to the distributors cutting off the gang's income. I believe that a close working relationship with probation and parole are more effective tools and less manpower intensive than gang injunctions.

#3 – The school gang prevention and police gang units must be properly budgeted and staffed. They must be supported by the police administrators, prosecutors, and courts. Hardcore gang members are often only about 5 percent of the population but responsible for 50 percent, 60 percent, or more of the crime. Gang prevention and prosecution is the most effective use of your public safety tax dollars.

Effective Programs

In the late 1970s the street gang problems in Los Angeles were out of control. A Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff, Curtis Jackson, came up with a selective targeted, intelligence driven, proactive anti-gang concept he experimented with in the Watts area he called "Operation Hickory Street." He wrote a grant proposal based on his successful Hickory Street program calling it "Operation Safe Streets."

To everyone's surprise the OSS Gang grant was funded in 1978 and twelve original gang detectives were selected and assigned in three-man teams to the four most gang active LASD station areas: East Los Angeles, Pico Rivera, Lennox, and Lynwood (which included the unincorporated county area of  Compton). The program was so effective that some of the targeted gangs in the areas they claimed as home turf completely disappeared. Within five years it was called the most successful gang program in the nation.

About the same time in the city of Paramount, which borders Compton to the east, a local educator named Tony Ostos developed a school program of early intervention aimed at kids as early as the fourth grade. The program included graphic drawings in coloring books and puppet shows that taught these kids from tough neighborhoods that there are consequences and alternatives to joining a gang. In 1982 the Paramount City Council, instead of denying that it had six major gangs claiming turf in its five-square-mile city, acknowledged its gang problems and partnered with the Sheriff's Department and Tony Ostos' Paramount program to fight gangs. The Paramount school program became the "Gang Resistance Is Paramount" (GRIP) program. By 2003 violent crimes were reduced by 42 percent and gang membership was cut in half.

You would think that the state of California, Los Angeles City, and the County would implement these two programs statewide. But no, L.A. City Schools didn't want to go "outside" to supplant its own gang prevention programs with NIH (not invented here) programs. And throughout the county, city administrators who did not understand gangs or the OSS concept felt that the suppressive saturation uniform presence tactic, like those utilized by LAPD CRASH gang units, looked so good on the 5:00 news. It made the citizens feel like something was being done about the gang problem.

As a result we in Los Angeles have experienced these same failed programs many times. Do you recognize some of these no-nos in your jurisdiction?

What Not to Do

Don't be in denial about the gang problems in your city. Make a realistic gang assessment of your city and its schools and playgrounds. Would your kids feel safe there?

Don't think that gangs are just part of someone else's ethnic culture or race. Traditional and nontraditional gangs can be of any color.

Don't tolerate gang bullies picking on your non-gang kids in schools or anywhere else. Remember your first responsibility is to protect and serve the people, not to try to understand the bully or "give him another chance."

Don't listen to racist "community leaders" or think that they are really the "spokesperson" for the community. It is often a fine line between ethnic pride and race hate rhetoric. This creates more hate.

Don't hire ex-gang members to run your anti-gang programs. Besides wasting your money, it's like hiring Cheesh and Chong to teach your kids about the evils of marijuana.

Don't appease parental gang enablers and community gang codependent adults. Tell them that their coddling and excuses will result in the loss of more lives. If they interfere, don't be afraid to arrest them also.

Don't enable gang members to express themselves and their "culture" by painting "gang murals" on prominent public walls. The mural will become a territorial landmark and instigate further violence. Who gives this opportunity to express themselves and their culture to good kids?

Don't allow gang members to identify community witnesses and informants. Protect witnesses from the bureaucracy of your department and the justice system as well. Protect cops and prosecutors from gang retaliations.

Don't let prosecutors reduce charges in gang-related cases, unless it is to obtain cooperation. Educate prosecutors, judges, and local politicians about gangs.

Don't invite the ACLU, Prison Law Collective, or racist organizations into your jail to monitor and advise you on how you handle your inmate problems.

Don't rely on suppressive gang patrol as more than just a temporary solution. Good gang intelligence and surgical raids against well thought out targets work the best. Massive sweeps that don't produce criminal filings are "for show" only.

Don't think that "No comment!" is an intelligent reply to a radio or TV reporter asking you for information on a gang case. You can bet the defense lawyers and community activists will be giving their opinion on the evening news. Have something to say; select a spokesperson. Get the community on your side by giving some information and simple explanations.

Don't become a man power pool, putting out fires all over your jurisdiction. You can't develop informants or intelligence—you can't prevent gang violence—if you are somewhere else putting out a fire for the boss.

Don't listen to them when they say, "…we don't do it that way" or "…we never did it that way before." Think outside the box. Look to imitate the programs that actually do work.

Comments (6)

Displaying 1 - 6 of 6

The Doctor @ 2/15/2008 11:13 PM

The same problem in Law enforcement as always. The best example was the OJ Simpson mess. Everyone was worried about how good they were going to look and how this will advance me up the ladder instead of doing the job at hand to the best of their abilities. If you get the gang problem cleaned up or at the very least under control, who cares how it was done, within the law of course, or who gets credit. Or for that matter who gets mad about how you did it. If you found a cure for war, crime, poverty and cancer someone would complain about it. God forgive for quoting Joe Friday but if you want applause, be an actor.

ROB ROY @ 2/16/2008 12:57 AM


ladyhollman @ 2/16/2008 3:00 PM

This is outstanding advice not only for combating gangs but also for combating drugs, burglaries, etc. Agencies get too wrapped up in "the dog and pony show" for feel good reasons but in the long run it does nothing to impact the crime of focus. Putting out fires is the FD job. Apprehending and prosecuting the arsonist so he can't start anymore... now that's the PD.

boywonder7417 @ 2/17/2008 1:04 PM

What an excellent article! I can see some of the no-no's being commited in my city, although they are few. It is always a pleasure to read the gang channel and Sgt. Valdemar's write ups.

David Moore S-55 @ 2/17/2008 6:49 PM

Excellent! The most important of any endeavor is getting the folks to listen & learn. This means get rid of excuses - and quit spending too much on why it can't be done, than what can we do to fix (follow-up and persistence are Key)!! People who care and try to make a difference in others lives (Law Enforcement Daily) or the world in which they live in, always pay the highest price for taking a stand-commitment, many times with their lives. Respect and responsibility follow character development and are fundamental for successful learning experiences. We must remember that a young person in whom such virtues as courage, patience, and fortitude are developing is significantly more likely to do what is necessary to learn and fit in. My dad brought the Korean WAR back with him and tried forgetting via bottle (violent/Alcoholic). Needless to say my youth 5-8 years old was stressed...and was not ideal conditions for growing and poor lessons of abuse. But that was no excuse for me not to find good role models, mentors and fit in the right way. Times were hard and we were poor - but the love of family & friends helped me overcome and take a better path during my journey. Nobody can take what is yours from inside, but you can give it up... Character is always the balance beam from within.
Thanks for the wisdom! Dave

jpaynter @ 3/11/2009 9:09 AM

Sir, thank you for writing this thoughtful article. I am starting my new assignment in our departments gang unit ( 1 sergeant, 1 detective (me) and two officers). I work in a city of 65,000 in an urban county with a big gang problem. Our unit will be coordinating with agencies around the county with a combination of patrol emphasis and investigations. After 14 years in this business, I agree with your assessment of the problem & your proposed solutions & I will be forwarding this to our group. Well done.

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