Combating Gang Crime – Part 2

“Behind the Badge”
Lodi Police Step It Up and Take a Fresh Look
by Mark Helms – Chief of Police

Lodi is an amazing city where residents enjoy an outstanding quality of life.  We all want to keep it that way.

In Part 1, I explained why suppressing gangs is important for the entire community, how gang violence became the Police Department’s top focus, and what three choices every gang member has to make about his or her future.  Now I’ll discuss the main facets of an effective gang strategy and how the Lodi Police Department is transforming its approach to gang violence.

Better Enforcement

The Police Department is determined to disrupt, dismantle and displace street gangs.  Strong enforcement has always been essential to suppress crime, and now we’re introducing new methods to enhance our effectiveness even more.

Saturation missions that emphasize zero-tolerance enforcement in certain areas usually bring immediate results, but those results are typically short-lived.  Simply saturating a neighborhood with a zero-tolerance posture can do more harm than good, because the mainstream community often gets caught up in the enforcement action.  In the end, the police in some communities tend to alienate the wrong people.

The Surgical Approach

We can learn from communities that take a different approach.  Instead of disrupting entire neighborhoods, Lodi’s newest enforcement model emphasizes a focused approach toward the most relentless offenders.  Consider it like using a scalpel to dissect gangs instead of dropping a sledgehammer on a neighborhood.

We’ll also take action against those who support or enable gang activity.  We’re prepared to hold parents of juvenile gang members responsible for their kids’ crimes and hold landlords accountable when they refuse to take corrective action on nuisance properties they’ve rented to gang families.

A Carrot or a Stick?  It’s Their Choice

We know that aggressive and smart enforcement is the key to gang suppression, but it isn’t enough.  Academics and practitioners alike recognize that we can’t arrest our way out of the problem.  Successful strategies must be carefully structured and multi-faceted to address gang crime from several perspectives.  In addition to enforcement, this means a well-balanced program that includes strong prevention, intervention and education components.

We won’t need to reinvent the wheel.  Other communities have been successful with models that include the right balance of suppression and deterrent programming.  A simple analogy is a “carrot and stick” approach.  We’ll use prevention, intervention, and education methods to entice individuals to leave or avoid the gang lifestyle (the carrot), and we won’t hesitate to strictly enforce laws and rigorously prosecute offenders if they don’t (the stick).

Why Alternatives are Essential

To a degree, Lodi Police have been participating in prevention, intervention, and education programs for quite some time.  We have partnered with Lodi Unified School District to assign School Resource Officers (SROs) on several school campuses.  One of our SROs’ many responsibilities is to teach the G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education And Training) curriculum to sixth-grade students.  The Lodi Police Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises funds to support the Police Department, pays tuition expenses for officers to attend G.R.E.A.T. instructor’s school.

G.R.E.A.T. is effective, but it doesn’t reach everyone and it isn’t enough.  More programming alternatives are needed in the community.  One proven program that focuses on those already entrenched in gang life, or are at the fringe of joining, is Stockton’s Operation Peacekeeper, which utilizes youth outreach workers to engage gang members and help persuade them to walk away from the gang lifestyle.

These outreach workers develop rapport with gang members and determine precisely what support and programming each individual needs.  They are successful with their clientele because their background as former gang members helps them establish a level of credibility that few others can match.

Many parents, educators, and others in the community don’t know how to identify the traits of gang membership.  Gang members typically display clues that indicate they’re part of a gang, often exhibited through their wardrobe and behavior.

Last summer, the Police Department was invited to participate in a community meeting at Heritage School.  The principal, Maria Cervantes, had recognized the surge of gang violence near her campus and took action to mobilize the families of her students.  During the meeting, there was strong interest among parents, faculty, and elected officials to learn how to recognize gang behavior and take action to stop it.

These are just a few aspects of successful prevention, intervention, and education programs.  Even more services are currently accessible from public agencies and non-profit organizations alike.

How Will We Pay For It?

Most know the City of Lodi and the Lodi Police Department have seen significant budget reductions in recent years.  Staff reductions have occurred throughout city government, which continues to affect the level of service residents are used to.

In this economic environment, finding a funding source won’t be easy.  Despite that challenge, the Police Department is aggressively searching for grant funding as well as partnership opportunities within our own community.

How to Report Gang Crime

Gang crimes are usually difficult to solve because victims, as well as offenders, are reluctant to cooperate with the police.  They love who they are and the destructive lifestyles they live.  But there are many good people in the community who know a lot about the gang activity that happens around them.  We need them to come forward to share what they know, even if they don’t want to tell us who they are.

Individuals can provide information anonymously to the SIU by calling our gang tip line at 333-6734.  They can also contact Lodi Crime Stoppers at 369-CRIME (369-2746), or online at  Calls to Crime Stoppers are also anonymous and may qualify for a cash reward up to $1,000.

A Comprehensive Strategy

Even though gangs will always exist, the Police Department will continue working hard to reduce gang crime in Lodi many years into the future.  It will ultimately be a sustainable, community-wide philosophy to address gangs from several approaches.  While strong enforcement will always be important, we need to do much more to be successful.

The Police Department can’t do it alone.  We’ll need help from the entire community, including our public, private and nonprofit partners.  Fortunately, Lodi is a city that is cohesive and strong.  As we move forward to address gang violence, I am confident the people of Lodi will give us the support we need, and more.


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