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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.

Off-Duty Gang Confrontations

Take steps to avoid self-identifying yourself as a cop while off duty. And plan so you'll be ready if trouble finds you.

February 17, 2012  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

Outstanding OSS gang units led by sergeants such as Ed Dvorak, Charlie Araujo and others begged, barrowed and invented police equipment and training far advanced of our regular departmental training. We spent our own time and money to train with LAPD and LASD SWAT teams. We trained with experienced experts from Israel, Jordan, France, New Zealand, and England who belonged to special anti-terrorist units. This somehow seemed to be offensive to those who felt that "the department-issued equipment and training was enough." To be the best, train like the best.

In the early 1990s, I was living in the Southridge area of Fontana, Calif. Though this was a residential area populated by firemen and police officers, my wife and I had several confrontations with local members of the 18th Street gang, the Headhunters and a local tagging crew called TDK.

These gang members seemed to have free reign at night in this area. They knew who I was, although I didn't work in that city. Several times after coming home late at night they would stand down the street in a park and taunt me. Finally one day while skateboarding at the neighborhood park, my middle-school boy was shot at by gang members. He was grazed in the elbow by one of the rounds. We moved out before the inevitable confrontation occurred. My neighbor was not so lucky.

On Sept. 25, 1995 at about 7 p.m. in my quiet middle-class Southridge neighborhood, an elderly man saw a group of taggers crossing out a curb tag on the sidewalk in front of his home in the 11500 block of Winery Drive. The vandals had stopped and unloaded from two vehicles parked in the street in front of the residence. The homeowner exited his door and asked them what they were doing. Instead of running away, four tagger crew members began yelling at the homeowner.

Several of the neighborhood children and teens were in the area playing when they turned their attention to the confrontation. They witnessed the taggers jumping on the homeowner and attacking him with fists and feet, and later told police. An LAPD officer lived next door and was also aroused to the commotion and like a good neighbor ran to the aid of the elderly neighbor. The four young taggers were not used to victims resisting and fighting back, especially when they were adult men. One of the most violent taggers ran to the parked vehicles and returned to the fight armed with a handgun.

The off-duty LAPD officer had no choice but to draw and fire. Witnesses said two or three shots dropped the armed tag banger. The remaining taggers and the witnesses scattered. The suspect vehicles sped away, one north on Winery and the other east on Shadow Drive (past my house). Responding police and paramedics pronounced the teenager dead, taped off the crime scene and covered the tag banger's body. The television news crew showed up.

Beating the suspect to the draw is not the end of the problem. The aftermath of an off-duty shooting can be just as dangerous. The next morning the mother of the slain tag banger appeared on the Los Angeles television news saying that her son was forced to carry a handgun to defend himself from the police who harassed and threatened her poor son. There was a general response from the self-appointed "community spokespersons" who expressed shock and dismay that the off-duty LAPD officer could find no other response but to kill a youthful minority member for a minor act of vandalism.

My sympathy for the poor LAPD officer only increased as he endured the shooting-review process. This could have easily been me. Don't make the false assumption that the negative television and print media coverage of the shooting, and the community activist's anti-police campaign would have no influence on the police shooting review.

Even if the shooting was found justified by the LAPD shooting review process, the Good Samaritan officer might still face criminal and civil trials. His home and his family could possibly now become targets of the surviving gang bangers. The stress and aftermath of this shooting could change the officer's whole future life.

Do yourself a favor. Your planning for the many facets of an unthinkable off-duty situation must be serious and deliberate. Think about it, and be prepared for these confrontations.

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Comments (8)

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8

lawvictoria @ 2/20/2012 1:11 PM

Good advice.

Pup @ 2/21/2012 8:24 AM

Being a rookie on the department, I worked with Richard learning about gangs and survival. He's the master of gangs. It was kewl he brought back the old memories of the weapons we carried. Great article and take what Richard says seriously.....Be safe and God Bless..

Bullet50 @ 2/21/2012 12:40 PM

Great information Rich! Off-duty tactical clothing is not very tactical. The look has a big marketing push by companies like 5.11. Officers who are serious about their safety off-duty; do not need that Khaki Range look. It has its place at the academy or range. Officers should always be aware of their surroundings and utilize clothing that is discrete and allows them to carry conceal a handgun and a spear mag. I wear bullet50 clothing which is designed for true U C operators.

DaveSAM25G @ 2/21/2012 7:40 PM

Well said!! Solid advice here again Rich...and it's not just clothing but how you carry yourself also...I remember post a Keep Me Advised (KMA) item in blog once and got accussed of telling someone Kiss my Axx...I had to expain that too!

Capt David-Ret LA County @ 2/22/2012 6:11 PM

Author is the expert. Heard about him when I was at Administration. Also read good story

rob @ 2/23/2012 5:43 AM

Early on in my career when I still wore a uniform, I got made twice off duty. I was always religious about having a pistol on me, so I was ready; but neither situation escalated. Both times, however, it was not me who noticed I was drawing attention, but people with me. Jeff Cooper's color codes should be as much of a habit as carrying the off duty gun. I've worked in street clothes for the past 16 years and this article got me thinking that I need to raise the awareness level of my fellow plain clothes co-workers as we're going to be seen in the same clothes off duty.

Trigger @ 2/23/2012 12:07 PM

After over 33 years in the profession mostly working the streets I still do not understand the mentality of many, many new officers and some senior officers who wear their "shoot me clothes" off duty. I have been made off duty several times by some of the dirtbags I have arrested just because they recognized my ugly mugg. Gang members have no sense of humor especially when morer that one are traveling together.

Anthony Manzella @ 2/24/2012 6:27 PM

Great article and great advice, Richard. You taught me that a long time ago and I've followed your advice ever since then.

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