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Police take anti-gang effort to classrooms
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Manteca Police officer Victor Vincent stands with third grade teacher Darren Collins as they show third grade students protective equipment that police and SWAT team officers use in the line of duty. - photo by GLENN KAHL
Two Manteca Police school resource officers spent the week at Joshua Cowell School where they engaged students to the dangers of gangs in the community.

As part of Gang Prevention Week, the officers met with children from kindergarten through the eighth grades.

“Gang prevention is about building rapport with the kids,” the officers said.  

Officer Jason Hensley said the younger children don’t really have a perception of gangs in the community, and the officers focus more on bonding while having fun with them.  

Often times the boys and girls  are given a clouded perception of the police by family members, and the officers hope to change that.  Hensley said some parents have been known to tell their children that if they are bad they will call the police to come and get them.

“We want to change that perception for them,” Hensley said, “and just have them come out of their classrooms, and have fun with a couple of Manteca police officers.”

And fun they had in getting to inspect two police units parked at the curb in front of their school.  Boys - and girls too - got to try on a bullet proof SWAT vest, a gas mask, and wear officer  Victor Vincent’s helmet.

Taking just 10 children at a time,  the officers rotated them from one car to another showing them how the computer told other officers exactly where their  cars were parked -- at the curb in front of Joshua Cowell School

Officer Jason Hensley activated the siren for them as they peered into the driver’s side door of his police car.  Then he hit the unit’s truck horn, and activated the emergency red and blue, flashing lights.  

“It’s like our rock star day,” Hensley said. “Victor and I are like rock stars to these (younger) kids.”

As soon as one third grade class finished another was lined up on the walkway leading to the two police cars.

“Most of the younger kids - once you get to know them - you can determine what kind of family life they come from,” Hensley said. “Most of them live sheltered lives,” he added.

Hensley said in the last nine months he has found that some of the fifth and sixth graders know as much about gang life as he does - very enlightening, he said.

“I do a presentation (in the classrooms) where we talk about the real truth, the dangers of getting involved with gangs.  I am going to do anything I can to prevent them from getting involved,” he said.

The officer said the older elementary students are at a vulnerable age with their personalities still forming, and they are deciding what kids they are going to be hanging around.

Getting kids to realize they control their own destinies
“I am trying to get to them before they are wrongly influenced,” he said.

Hensley said what he is shooting for at the seventh and eighth grade level is to get that “light bulb” to turn on - for them to realize their actions are going to determine their destinies, he added.

The “Chief’s Initiative” designed and created by Manteca Police Chief David Bricker is now a reality as a non-profit, crime fighting tool.

It encourages the private sector to donate funds to pay for resources to fight crime in the community when funding falls short.

Enforcement, education, and environment are “the three Es” that make up the basis for the program.  

“We are being very successful with the enforcement and the education portions right now.  The environment segment is what we are trying to get funds for,” Hensley said.

Stockton Police Department is currently running a similar program called “Peace Keepers.”  It is being coordinated by a recently retired Stockton Police captain Ralph Womack -  also a former member of the Manteca Police Department.

Hensley said the Lathrop Police Department, and the Manteca Unified School District have joined forces in support of the Manteca Chief’s Initiative, but $70,000 is needed to make it work, he said.  It is needed to make a difference in the lives of some 800 known gang members in the Manteca area.

In the Stockton, Peace Keepers community resource workers carry case loads of 200 to 300 validated gang members living within the city limits - gang members who have a desire to break away from gang life.

The resource workers step in to show the youth alternatives such as getting jobs, finishing their education, and removing their tattoos.

Hensley said the program is having great successes in Stockton. Manteca officers hope to make their program just as successful in the local community.