With some areas of Orange County in the grip of a seering wave of gang violence this year, the Buena Park Police Department is initiating an experimental program designed to let parents know that their children could be in danger of becoming gang members.
Beginning in July, officers on regular patrol duties will be on the lookout for youths susceptible to joining a gang. The program hopes to identify youngsters who may be drifting toward gang membership and steer them away before it is too late.
"(The officers) will be looking for typical things that may lead to gang behavior," Police Chief Richard M. Tefank said. In particular, they will keep an eye out for children who are spotted loitering with known gang members, he said.
Officers will stop such youngsters and conduct field interviews with them--getting their names, their addresses and the names of their parents.
Officers Rich Pena and Bruce Manning, the city's current Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) officers, will then follow up with a phone call or visit to the youth and his or her parents. "We are going to make contact with the parents because we want them to be aware," Manning said.
Parents will be told what their child was doing and why the police were concerned. The officers will also offer the family counseling on gang behavior. If problems such as drug abuse are evident, the family will be given information about the various support services in the county.
Tefank said the Police Department decided to start the program as a way of using its DARE officers in the summer, when school is out of session and the DARE program, as a result, is less active. The new program differs from the DARE program in that officers, instead of working specifically with students in a particular school, will actually be confronting people on the street.
One thing the program will not do is prevent juveniles from being arrested.
"This isn't a substitute for criminal prosecution," Tefank said. Instead, the program's intent is to intervene before youngsters commit crimes.