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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.


Los Angeles County's two largest law enforcement agencies combated gangs with differing approaches.

December 21, 2010  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

In the past three decades on my many trips across the 50 states, I've had the opportunity to observe a natural rivalry that seems to exist between the city police and county sheriffs in most jurisdictions.

Of course, I've remained unaffected by this natural rivalry. I've remained perfectly objective. I can say with absolute certainty that, except in the fictional world of cinema and television drama, LAPD is the second best law enforcement organization in Los Angeles. The LAPD uniforms might be prettier, but in the urban jungle of L.A. streets, the bad guys fear the Los Angeles County Sheriff's more.

However, Hollywood somehow never seemed to get that. Maybe it was because, for many years, it was the policy of the various sheriff's deputies of Los Angeles to avoid having LASD depicted in the fictional world of movies and on television. In contrast, the LAPD had the world famous Jack Webb and Dragnet and lots of other programs depicting them as heroes.

Don't get me wrong, some of my best friends were LAPD officers. The LAPD'a academy turns out great cops, just like the LASD's academy. Both are paramilitary and Marine Corps-like — in regiments and in their drill-instructor styles. And graduates from both academies come out with the confidence and "take charge" attitude that inspire young recruits to think they can whip a dozen professional mixed martial arts cage fighters.

The difference is that LAPD puts these gung-ho recruits out on the street immediately after graduation, and the sheriff's department sends them to county jail to mature. Without a firearm or baton, the deputy sheriff is thrown into an environment populated by criminals.

Despite their lack of persuasive tools, deputy sheriffs are expected to get the inmates to follow jail rules and even work at jail jobs. Exposed and surrounded by cons, gangs and murderers, the deputy must develop his or her brain and language skills to control and supervise the type of people he or she will eventually arrest on the street.

I submit that generally this makes him a better patrol officer, more capable of using his own discretion with less supervision. The difference in attitude and style is most obvious when comparing the gang units of both departments. Pay attention Hollywood.

When the writers and producers of "Colors" (1988) wanted to make a movie about gangs and gang cops, they first rode with the LAPD's Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) Unit.

When the screenplay was written, the writers fashioned the negative character "Pac Man" (Sean Penn) after gang-unit officers they had met while riding with LAPD. However they modeled the positive character played by Robert Duval after Roy Nunez, an Operation Safe Streets (OSS) deputy who later worked for me in the LASD's Prison Gang Unit (PGU).

When Michael Jackson's production team was working on the music video "Beat It" for the "Thriller" album, they first approached LAPD to recruit real gang members for the video. The LAPD CRASH brass said, "We don't deal with gang members, except to arrest them." So it was LASD and OSS that brought and supervised the hundred or so East Coast Crips and Maravilla gang members to make the video.

David Freed, a Los Angeles Times reporter, wrote an article contrasting the two gang units published in Jan. 19, 1986, entitled "Policing Gangs: Case of Contrasting Styles." It should be noted that this was the peak of the gang and crack-cocaine murder epidemic in Los Angeles.

The LAPD's CRASH gang unit was started in 1977, and LASD's OSS began in December of 1978. By 1986, LAPD CRASH had 145 officers, with two thirds in uniform. OSS had 52 gang investigators in plain clothes. CRASH called its program "Total Gang Suppression" and worked every gang in the city. The LAPD jurisdiction had 160 identified gangs with 12,500 gang members.

LASD OSS had 239 gangs with 25,000 gang members. LASD's OSS also used a program of "target gang suppression." By tactically selecting the most violent target gangs, the small number of OSS deputies could more effectively concentrate their efforts and really get to know the target gang and all the specific gang members. This was a more effective utilization of resources and manpower. 

LAPD CRASH had no formal gang school, but LASD OSS required a basic 40-hour gang curriculum with an additional 40 hours of advanced gang training.

You don't become a gang expert overnight. You don't become qualified to testify in court in just a couple of years. LAPD rotated its officers in and out of CRASH gang units and station areas, but the OSS gang deputies remained in OSS and LASD stations for years, allowing them to develop greater, more complete expertise.

As a result of LASD OSS having to develop its individual "gang people skills," most of their good gang cops became known for their ability to develop reliable gang informants. Intelligence is the key to any successful anti-gang operation. This was enhanced and supported by fellow deputies working in the county jail. The county jail would later form its own gang unit modeled after OSS calling it Operation Safe Jails (OSJ). LAPD would eventually assign a gang officer to work the county jail gang unit OSJ.

As the Los Angeles Times article points out, the OSS gang units were doing better than CRASH units, handling twice the number of gangs and gang members with one-third of the manpower.

For some reason, LASD OSS brass would later abandon many of the policies that made the OSS gang program superior to CRASH. LASD would form Gang Enforcement Teams (GET) that would be deployed and moved from one hot spot to another, mimicking LAPD's CRASH program. They would also move away from tactical targeting, instead targeting all gangs like the failed "Total Gang Suppression" program. Even some of the most important LASD gang-school curriculum was gutted.

Still, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Operation Safe Streets concept apparently remains the best gang-fighting system when it's allowed to work. If you wish to study a program that was truly successful, OSS is the textbook.

Comments (20)

Displaying 1 - 20 of 20

brook @ 12/21/2010 4:36 PM

Excellent article. Factual and to the point.

[email protected] @ 12/24/2010 11:40 AM

As a former CRASH Officer the title sparked my interest. However, after reading the article, I believe the title should have read "Sour Grapes!"

In short, stick to your excellent gang expertise articles that have instructional value and refrain from submitting useless information.

I suggest the best forum for this article is at a gang conference during hospitality hour.

deportega @ 12/26/2010 10:20 AM

As an LASD deputy I've seen and worked with OSS and GET. These are a group of hard working deputies who learn the streets and the community they patrol. They are excelent investigators. The best. They are very good at what they do because they're fearless and gressive, yet understand the needs of the community.

I've also had the pleasure to work with a few LAPD CRASH officers, and they also are excelent investigators. The best. Both agencies do things a little different, and have different styles of dealing with gangsters, but in the end, they are excellent at what they do. Keep up the good work, may God keep us safe.

texastoast @ 12/26/2010 9:45 PM

There a few things that I just find absolutely bizarre about this article. They deal mostly with the logic behind of why you find OSS better than crash. Just to point out a few: OSS was able to secure gangsters to participate in Thriller, LAPD recruits start their career in the streets carrying a gun facing armed criminals, using the movie Colors as reference (which sources for characters can be disputed), using the LA Times as a valid source (LOL), acknowledging that LASO changing the OSS procedure to mimic LAPD, and the fact you fail to realized that LAPD gang officers are also assigned and dedicated to a present division.

I do think you are a bit biased, but found your article amusing. In LAPD, we use the concept of COP, which essentially means know your people, your criminals/crime, and your community to establish a relationship with them. That is our primary function; not to provide court security and run the jails.

I have friends who are LASO. Most of them are nothing like Duvalls character in the movie Colors but more like Pac-Man.

texastoast @ 12/26/2010 9:46 PM

I think it impossible to guesstimate the actual numbers of hard-core gang members in the city and county. I do hope that someday in the near future I can say that areas such as Watts, Nickerson Gardens, the Jungle, and some of our large Hispanic population districts become less dangerous to our Gang Officers. That would be a testament of the excellent job they do day in and day out.

Regardless, I my experience with LASO deputies on duty have led me to form a positive attitude toward the agency. Like my one of my training officers once told me, you don’t have to talk tough to be tough.

AJSer @ 1/10/2011 12:33 AM

I think all this talk is childish in the extreme. I've been around a lot of gang experts including those from the LAPD and PASD, as well as many other small departments. Heck, I've even met a few good gang investigators from the FBI, YES the FBI. None really work harder than the other, although there are a lazy few everywhere. GROW UP!

richard valdemar @ 2/1/2011 1:10 PM

Tone down the testosterone level fellas. This article is not about who the best Gang Cops are. It is about the most effective use of good gang cops in an anti-gang program. I know and respect many outstanding LAPD gang cops. That’s not the point. And the statistics are not from the L.A Times they are from the Law Enforcement agencies involved.

Sharyn Douglas @ 5/16/2011 6:43 AM

My cousin and I walk 2.5 miles in the early a.m. Today we noticed a "tag" on a fence..." DOE". Can you tell me what it indicates? We are located in the country outside of Madera, California.

Tony Moreno @ 7/16/2011 11:57 PM

To set the record straight, I don't know if any writers from the movie "Colors" rode along with any CRASH units, but one did do a ride-along with me and my partner. They even used my nickname "Pacman", the yellow Plymouth Fury police car I drove for over five years and a couple of my words and tricks in the movie.

I think that an article like this could be productive but maybe the perspective should have come from someone from each agency who was there and worked under those various conditions.

The reality is if someone wants to work and focus on gangs, he or she is going to do it regardless of what obstacles their agency puts in front of them. The article didn't discuss some of the weak points in the LASD philosophy and some of the strong points with the LAPD, that's why it seemed a bit biased. If I were the "King", there are points from each agency I'd use and some I'd dump. Be safe out there.

mike @ 10/26/2011 10:43 AM

Interesting article, but i think you over reach in your depiction of the skill levels of both agencies in dealing with the gang problem. both LAPD and LASD "WERE" known for their hard edged- take no prisoners approach to the cancerous entrenchment of gang violence in southern California.

I emphasis the past tense, because civilian management has NEUTERED both agencies for the sake of political correctness, and to stave off the hypocritical overview of federal agencies that seem far too willing to punish local LE,to make a name for themselves.

the OSS and GET of LASD and the extinct CRASH( LAPD de centralized the gang units and each runs independently from their respective area stations) are a thing of the past-I speak to regularly to LAPD officers who have walked away from gang enforcement, rahter than be run out of their careers. LASD? as a vet from commpton stated to me, " new officers join GET to get their tickets punched and move on- not to work the streets"....

Fred Repp @ 1/3/2012 7:39 PM

Mr. Valdemar,
Can you contact me directly in regard to the LA GANGS insignia?
Fred Repp
Senior Officer
Federal Bureau of Prisons
[email protected]

jesse @ 11/19/2012 3:49 PM

Both agencies are great at what they do, however LAPD is truly a big city cop agency.. The talk about sheriffs in the urban city is not real.. LASD does not patrol or have anything to do within city limits LAPD in my opinion are Kings of the City.. LASD are Kings of the jail system and courts and bus prisoner transport and MTA red line and all the stuff that does not make a big city cop..

officer dangle @ 1/13/2013 10:05 PM


Mike @ 8/1/2013 9:36 PM

Worked with both... Known both... And attended funerals for heroes wearing both types uniforms... Don't care about politics or who's who in the zoo... It's us against them, period... Systems don't mean **** at the end of a foot pursuit, right? King of the city, what a joke...both are outstanding, not for the brass, or some movie, or some departmental structure...but for the ones on patrol... Period.

PacMan @ 9/5/2013 12:26 PM

Tony Moreno LAPD ..if I'm correct, Pac man was a white. last of Owens.
Ring a bell

Garcia @ 9/5/2013 12:29 PM

The gangs are in the south east. The Park, maywood, Bell, cudahy, SG, BG.
& Pomona

Playinthestreets @ 11/16/2014 12:48 PM

Both departments do great work and both are greatly outnumbered. But to say that LASD does not work the city is just pointing out they don't work downtown LA which encompasses skid row and the shopping districts. But you forget the majority of the major gangs are in south central (South LA station, Century station, and Compton station) and southeast LA (East LA station, Pico Rivera station, Norwalk station, and Industry station).

LASD does the majority of its work in one man cars as opposed to LAPD's two man units. And Robert Duvall's character was in fact patterned after a LASD Detective.

bob @ 12/1/2015 10:42 PM

Based on the volume of almost bizarre misconduct stories involving LASD, I would have to say this article does not hold water. LASD seems to consistently be the source of the most unprofessional, criminal conduct of any police agency west of the Mississippi.

Tiburcio Vasquez @ 3/2/2017 2:30 AM

Based on the amount of time in training I would have to say my barber is better equipped to handle whatever his profession throws his way than LAPD OR LASD officers are at theirs. I'm not exactly sure why a barber who only cuts hair undergoes more training than officers who have lives placed on their hands. Fun Fact if you have a high I.Q. or score to high in testing you're application to become an officer is rejected.

Humberto Guizar @ 3/28/2017 10:54 AM

I suppose the OSS unit is more effective because to combat gang members some of the OSS deputies themselves became bona-fide gang members. Lets not forget about the OSS group of deputies that formed their own little gang named the Jump out Boys. Most of the ones that were Identified by their tattoos were fired but we know some of them continue to operate in the Sheriff's Department.

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