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.
"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.
Goldschlag said that when officers visit homes of known gang members, it's common to see family photos on display that show young children dressed up in gang colors and flashing gang signs.
"Some kids pick it up from friends, some from family members," Goldschlag said.
Either way, children are being indoctrinated when they are very young, often as early as age 10.
"That is just one of the reasons (visiting classrooms) is important for us," he said.
G.R.E.A.T. is based on curriculum started by Phoenix police and officers with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in 1991 that has been formalized into a program that trains officers across the country. Several Santa Rosa Police officers and a prosecutor with the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office have gone through the training.
Officers talk with students about bullying, respect for people who are different, how to communicate and how to deal with being angry, among other topics.
At Roseland Elementary on Nov. 21, Navarro had seven students read from a workbook, each playing a character in a scenario about a student who is making fun of kids participating in a community service project.
"She doesn't sound like she cares about her community," said Keomony Mimitte, 10.
At least two research studies have tried to address whether the G.R.E.A.T. curriculum actually works in deterring gang involvement, and the results have been mixed.
But the simple act of getting children used to talking with uniformed officers has significant value, said Khaalid Muttaqi, program manager of the Santa Rosa Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force.