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Police work to influence kids before gangs do
Manteca Police gang prevention officer Jason Hensley shows students in the Give Every Child a Chance After School Advantage Program at Sequoia School some of the tools of his trade. See additional photos on Page A2. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Abran Marquez wore his junior police officer badge with pride as he soaked in every word that Manteca Police Gang Prevention Officer Jason Hensley had to say Friday afternoon.

Marquez – one of more than a hundred Give Every Child a Chance students who attended the assembly at the end of their after-school program at Sequoia Elementary – couldn’t get enough of Hensley’s hands-on approach with the students. That approach included anti-gang and drug messages as well as displaying the weapons that the police officers use to protect themselves in the line of duty.

“He talked about how you don’t get into gangs because you can get shot and you can die, or you can go to prison where you’ll have even more gangs,” said Marquez. “I think he (Hensley) is a cool guy. He’s funny, and he made me laugh.”

Hensley’s anti-gang message he brought to the elementary school students Friday differed sharply from the elaborate presentation that he oversaw Thursday morning at Sierra High School – a full-fledged production that included rapping, phone-book ripping, and a crime-scene staged to looked like a homicide.

Instead, he used humorous stories to connect with the younger audience and showed his taser, his duty pistol, and his M4 assault rifle that he carries in the back of his car – all drawing awe-struck stares from the students in the crowd.

“I liked it when he talked about all of his stories,” Eric Amavica said. “He also talked about how we shouldn’t get into gangs because bad things can happen if you do.”

Students were then given a chance to take a closer look at the equipment in and on his police cruiser, and were even taped-off in an impromptu crime scene that drew a fair amount of cheers from the excitable crowd.

According to Hensley, the message he brought Friday had to be different because the attention spans of the two age groups differs tremendously. While he might try and prevent a sophomore from heading down the wrong path, an elementary-age student gets plenty of influences from home – changing the way that Hensley has to approach his delivery.

“With some young kids the only time that they see the police is when we come into their house to take their mom or dad away,” he said. “If we can bridge that gap and build a relationship directly with the student, we can show them that not all police officers are bad, and we’re here to help them.

“Maybe in a few years when these kids are in high school they’ll come up and tell us when something is about to go down where somebody is going to get hurt. Maybe it’ll help prevent crimes. That’s all we can ask for when we go out to do things like this.”