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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.

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Gangs

LAPD's CRASH vs. LASD's OSS

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.


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