What youth in gangs need most are adults who are present to help them work through their personal issues, and a positive attitude, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, the fourth speaker in the 2010-2011 series “Gangs: Intervention Strategies to Break the Cycle of Violence.”
Speaking to social welfare students on March 31, Baca said that gang members often have “terrible parenting examples,” and “no solid, reliable, consistent interactions with adults.” As a result, he said, they are “lacking common sense at their core,” and engage in destructive behaviors that include “violence, cliquishness, and loyalty testing -- which they see as love.”
Baca recalled his own experience of being abandoned by his father when he was young, and growing up in East Los Angeles with a single mother and his grandparents. He said there were gangs in the neighborhood, but he rejected them. “I used my teachers as a basis of positive stability, and my highest regard was for them,” Baca said.
When asked what law enforcement today is doing to counter gangs, he said, “We’re interacting with at-risk youth, helping them to structure their lives more. As cops, we know how to deal with vulnerability, and get kids to work as a team.”
Among the Sheriff’s Department community programs he mentioned are: V.I.D.A., (Vital Intervention and Directional Alternatives), designed to help youth steer away from negative and potentially criminal behavior, and providing parenting classes, family counseling, and youth counseling; 16 youth centers, offering after-school and weekend programs; and deputies teaching in elementary schools.
“When they learn new skills, they feel better about themselves,” said Baca, who added that his model is Father Gregory Boyle, founder of the Homeboy Industries gang-intervention programs, and the Gang-series speaker in February.
One student asked what Baca would like to see done differently in Juvenile Hall. “Change the bureaucracy that doesn’t understand what you should be doing,” Baca responded. “Kids listen to you when you listen to them. When you do, they talk about their fears, depression, and problems.”
Baca said the Sheriff’s Department is willing to partner with social workers who see troubled kids and can be leaders in helping to turn their lives around.
Stressing that everyone, including gang members, must learn how to handle criticism, he said “the first point of leadership is to lead yourself, and know that you are what you let in. I don’t take negativity and I don’t give it.”