Wearing his badge and the department's black uniform, Santa Rosa Police Lt. Ray Navarro stood before a classroom full of energetic fifth grade students on a recent afternoon.
“How can we show respect for people?” Navarro asked the class, then pointed to three 10-year-olds raising their hands.
“By recycling,” said Zaira Pachuca Martinez.
Anti-Gang Efforts In Santa Rosa Schools
“Stand up for others,” Giovanni Gonzalez said.
“Be great and not join gangs,” said Jonathan Ramirez.
The Santa Rosa Police Department is aiming its gang-prevention efforts at children as young as 9 years old by spending time in the classroom.
Based on a curriculum used across the country called the Gang Resistance Education and Training Program, or G.R.E.A.T., uniformed officers talk with children about a variety of issues: how to handle being angry; what to do when they witness bullying; or what to say when a friend pressures them into participating in an activity like writing graffiti.
The aim is to curb delinquent behavior and diminish the allure of gangs.
In 2012, 22 percent of all crimes involving firearms were linked to gangs, and 10 percent of all crimes committed in schools were gang-related, according to Santa Rosa Police statistics.
Since Navarro launched the program in Santa Rosa in 2011, officers have taught about 770 students in fifth- and seventh-grade classrooms in Santa Rosa City, Bellevue Union and Roseland school districts.
Supported by a state grant, police have taught the lessons at nine elementary and middle schools in neighborhoods where students are most likely to feel pressure to join gangs.
Although gang activity occurs throughout the city and its outskirts, the western and southern neighborhoods typically experience the bulk of gang-related crimes, said Sgt. Eric Goldschlag, who oversees the Police Department's gang unit.