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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.
Gangs

Know Your Enemy's History

Too often, we criticize the surface, rather than plumbing the depths.

July 28, 2010  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."—Theodore Roosevelt

Esteemed colleague Frank "Paco" Marcel and I did a team teaching presentation for gang cops in Arizona. Knowing that these young officers had probably attended other gang training seminars, we endeavored to provide examples of how these basic tools might be effectively utilized in an intelligent and systematic way.

We called the two-hour class, "Intelligence Driven Gang Operations." My part of the presentation covered the history of the Los Angeles Sheriff Department's Operation Safe Streets concept and how the program was more successful than any other California gang program despite a serious lack of manpower and budget.

Paco, a pioneer in establishing prison gang and security threat group programs in New Mexico and Arizona, focused on the successful implementations of what he learned and brought to the Arizona system.

Although we received several positive comments at this conference and a few requests for the material we used to make the major points of our discussion, a few weeks later we were both surprised by the number of negative critiques that we read about our gang conference presentation.

Several comments suggested that Paco and I were only telling old war stories or boasting about our own accomplishments. One critic said he didn't care about gang history; he only wanted current information about what was happening today.

In each gang class I teach, I'm very sensitive to the feedback I get and common critiques that the material was too long or too short, too basic or too detailed, and complaints about bad language or politically incorrect speech. Because of the diversity of experience of the law enforcement officers in the audience these types of complaints are inevitable. We obviously failed to deliver important information in a manner that was interesting and easily digestible by our audience.

Earlier in the same conference, a young Las Vegas Metro officer made a presentation based on his confrontation with a gang member that resulted in a serious officer-involved shooting; he was nearly killed. It was an intense and emotional presentation with excellent officer safety and survival material, but I wonder if the same critic would have written that it was just another "old war story?"

That critic who suggested he didn't need a history lesson might want to think that through or seek another career. A few years back, I read a book by a World War II marine who was in combat in the jungles of Indochina. I remember thinking, "I wish I had read this book before my tour in Vietnam in 1967." It would have saved me a lot of grief and would have made me a more effective soldier.

I don't agree with this critic and his comment about law enforcement not needing history on a criminal gang (or even a terrorist group). This is why law enforcement is at this point again. We continue to employ the same failed reactive tactics with the same unsuccessful results. Have we learned nothing about gangs or terrorism from the acts perpetrated on us or on our allies in the past? Do you think their tactics are new?

One must understand our adversary's history and motivation in order to predict his future activities. Only reading this morning's news of what happened yesterday won't tell you what will happen this afternoon. You must know what the criminal gang or terrorist believes and what they have established as their pattern of behavior. Real intelligence opens the mind to why and how the adversary thinks, so we might be proactive rather than reactive to his attack.

Intelligence-driven police work prevents, infiltrates, and disrupts gangs and terrorist cells before the bomb goes off—or the ambush is sprung. It aids first responders on how to respond more effectively but also the investigators who must interview and interrogate witnesses and suspects to glean the next chessboard move. In other words, we should all endeavor to be more like the profilers on "Criminal Minds" and less like firemen responding after the house is burning. It's good to respond, but it's only second best.

In my presentation, I pointed out that in the 1980s, gang units did not have the equipment and technology enjoyed by officers today. They adapted and overcame these problems and in the process invented and developed tactics and equipment used today. From their crude beginnings, gear such as ballistic vests, nylon gear, flashlights, dynamic-entry equipment, and modern weapon-mounted optics, lasers and lights came. These systems are now standard equipment even among our military units. I challenged the class not to be satisfied with their new technology, but to push it forward to overcome greater obstacles. This apparently offended some.

One of the hosts of this law enforcement gang conference said that there were critiques that complained that there were "too many blueberry muffins and not enough bran muffins at the morning break." Or that the room was too hot or—from another critic in the same class—that the room was too cold.

Perhaps it's just the generational gap. Maybe it's just generations "X" and "Y" in this postmodern era wanting immediate gratification without working to get it. This was the opinion I heard from a venerated prosecutor who experienced similar criticism after making a presentation about how to prosecute gang cases to newly hired prosecutors in the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

If you recognize in yourself or your partners any of these tendencies to criticize those who came before you and to complain about the shallow surface without plumbing the deeps of what is taught, maybe you're not really in the arena. Maybe you are just another spectator, a Monday morning quarterback who will never really know victory nor defeat.

And you critics who get an "F" in history should remember what George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Tags: Police History, Gang Investigator


Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

SAM551974D @ 8/2/2010 9:11 PM

Quoted from Chapter 3 - Words and Meanings:

The Futility of Another’s Wisdom (Don’s Story)

I once wrote an article about living life to the fullest and expressing one’s positive mental, physical, creative, social, and spiritual potential. A friend, both a wise man and an esteemed colleague of mine, reviewed it and told me I should throw it away.

“Why?” I asked. Was it that bad?”

His answer disturbed me for years. He told me it was not bad at all. In fact, he said it was “right on target.” He said it explained exactly the problems and the solutions for un-happy people and corrupt societies, but that “it doesn’t leave me or anyone else any place to go on our own.” His remarks were final, and he gestured that he had no more to say on the subject.

It took me years to really understand what my colleague meant. Over that time I found that my passion and my ability to use words to convey important ideas often encountered a kind of hostility or resentment in some of my students. Eventually, I came to realize my problem. Wisdom is a wonderful goal, but each of us must find it on our own. Those of us compelled to share what wisdom we have learned on our unique paths risk alienating those who are not ready to move in the direction of our own interest or focus. This is a great challenge for teachers.

So why do we teach, write, inspire, encourage, and hope our words can make a difference? I suggest the answer rests with the metaphor of planting seeds that may take hold in time-in our students’ own time. If our ideas are sound and useful, our students will benefit from them when they are ready to tie them into their own world of experience. Don T.

prosecutorx @ 8/9/2010 8:13 PM

Sgt. Valdemar perfectly describes the attitude of too many new prosecutors. They don't want to be given the tools to develop their own approaches to prosecuting murders. They want to be given a check-list of things to do. They don't understand that there is no check-list, there is no one-way to do the work we do. They don't understand, no matter how many times we tell them, that they must develop their own tactics and strategy. They can learn from our experience, but they cannot copy it.

Anthony Manzella
Deputy District Attorney
Los Angeles County(Retired)

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