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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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Gang Prevention: A Pound of Cure

Develop a front-end approach to preventing "wanna be" gang members from becoming "gonna be" members.

May 10, 2011  |  by Elliot Sneezy

Photo: Richard Valdemar.
Photo: Richard Valdemar.

Community gang prevention requires networking and educating the public. You must also work with the "gonna bes."

Networking is a powerful tool in combating gangs. If done properly, it will make working gangs easier, by getting you through some of the closed doors we encounter. Networking gets you resources.

When I was a younger gang cop, calling a major police department and asking to speak to someone working gangs was always an uphill battle for me. Having a last name like mine (Sneezy) made it challenging to get people to take me seriously; so I played the endless telephone transfer game. Today, I know who I can call if I need something particular to gangs. If the person I'm calling doesn't know, then they usually refer me to someone else who can help. Gang cops always seem to drop what they are doing in order to help other gang cops.

Just because you can't get a stat out of networking, don't let obstacles such as managers and supervisors discourage you. I've learned tactics from business owners, fellow officers, victims, gang members, and witnesses that enhanced my ability to successfully deal with gang-affected people. Networking goes beyond the walls of the police stations. You have to make yourself available to gather intelligence, learn about useful programs, obtain financing, and identify others who share your motivation.

When you educate the public, you have an opportunity to influence the public into seeing what you are looking for as a gang cop, and help in making a "gonna be" a success. You start developing resources, and the resources are the tools you can use.

The most common way to educate the public is to conduct education through public presentations. The public are your eyes on the streets who are concerned about the same problems you're facing, and they live in the neighborhoods. As always, we have to be the ones to take the first step forward to make progress.

Contacting "gonna bes" is always a great opportunity for prevention. If you keep one kid out of a gang, that's one less kid you or another police officer has to worry about in the future. That's a kid you saved. In law enforcement, we're usually the ones who identify these kids with our own personal police talents. Once these kids are identified, we must take the first step toward prevention. These kids can shift either to the life of a career criminal or a life that leads to success.

There isn't only one way to prevent gang involvement; I like weekly follow-ups. I'll spend hours with a "gonna be," because I know in the long run we'll both benefit from it. Look at it this way. If you influence the kid away from gangs, you've learned what it took for him or her to leave the gang lifestyle. If the kid sways to the career-criminal gang side, then you'll have better intelligence than what you started with. It's a win-win situation.

We may not save every kid from gang involvement, but every kid deserves an opportunity to succeed. Law enforcement officers are the angels of our society, and when even one kid is saved from gang involvement, there are countless others behind and around that kid that we have also prevented from taking the wrong turn at the fork.

Related: Gang Prevention 101: A School Approach

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