"We'd been searching for this guy and couldn't find him. Fleager and Riley spotted him in a parking lot. He'd been on their caseload, and they remembered we were looking for him," Reese said.
All three probation officers cover an array of ethnic groups. But Fleager specializes in skinheads, who are white. Gates is the Asian specialist. Riley is the expert on blacks. They refer to Wright, their supervisor, for expertise on Latino gangs.
The three say the effect of their work on their family lives has been dramatic.
"You never really put the job behind you," Fleager said. "I used to drive to work in the morning listening to an oldies rock station. Now I'm constantly turning over my caseload in my head, trying to stay a jump ahead of some of these kids."
How well do their statistics hold up?
It all depends on whose yardstick you use.
Only 20 youngsters out of 212 probationers assigned to this unit have successfully completed probation.
In another 221 incidents, the gang members were returned to Juvenile Hall, or sent to CYA, for probation violations. That number is higher than the original 212, Wright explains, because some of the probationers are repeat offenders, arrested for probation violations more than once.
But Wright and his three-man crew do not see these 221 cases as their failures.
"That's 221 kids who are off the street and not out there breaking into your house," Fleager said.
The three men call their job "gang suppression."
"We are realistic enough to know that we aren't going to eliminate a gang by what we do," Riley explained. "But we can hurt a gang, and we can cut back its effectiveness by throwing some its leaders in jail."
Some of the juveniles, the three say, need a Big Brother approach, someone to help influence them away from gang life. But they add that approach doesn't work with many of the hard-core gang members.
"We're half cop, half social worker," Fleager said. "But we've got the deck stacked in our favor. We make the rules. They break 'em, they go to jail."