Gangs in Elk Grove?
Police Chief Robert Simmons answers SN&R’s questions
When the Elk Grove Police Department formed last summer, the City Council allocated significant resources to “the elimination of gang activity” and put gang members “on notice” that the street-crimes unit would stop their illegal activity in the city. In what a department spokesman said represented the first gang problem in Elk Grove schools since this police department was formed, a suspected gang-related attack on basketball players from Laguna Creek High School took place in December. Students from that same school were arrested through the coordinated efforts of law-enforcement agencies across the Sacramento region in mid-January for allegedly committing the attack. With that backdrop, Elk Grove’s Police Chief Robert Simmons—a 33-year law-enforcement veteran who previously worked for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department—agreed to talk to SN&R about gangs in his city.
The Elk Grove street-crimes unit has six narcotics detectives and eight gang detectives and two sergeants. Why? What’s the extent of the gang problem in Elk Grove?
[Our unit is that size] so we can proactively address these public-safety challenges before they become insurmountable, rather than having to play catch-up in the future. The gang problem in Elk Grove is mild in comparison to other areas in the region.
What gangs are operating in Elk Grove?
The same gangs that are prevalent throughout the Sacramento region may sometimes be present in Elk Grove. Like elsewhere, those gangs are typically race or ethnicity based.
Elk Grove is a small town. How did gang violence become a problem here?
While Elk Grove still has a warm small-town feel and a very nice Old Town, it is now the second-largest city in the Sacramento region. As much as our police department deters criminal behavior in Elk Grove, we are not an island immune to the regional and statewide public-safety challenge of combating gangs. We have a large influence of families from the Bay Area and beyond, which have moved here to escape the gang lifestyle their children have been exposed to. Not all of those have made the choice to remove themselves from the lifestyle and have participated in gang-pattern violence throughout the region.
What’s the EGPD doing to confront the problem of gangs?
Our philosophy is to take a balanced approach between suppression, enforcement and intelligence-gathering, utilizing a regional approach. We have two youth officers, patrol officers and problem-oriented policing officers who work with the school district and teen centers to help identify kids who are leaning toward the gang lifestyle and get them re-directed. We work closely with other agencies in the region to share information and resources.
Your department is participating in a series of regional gang-awareness meetings. What will you tell Elk Grove’s citizens on January 24 about what they can do to prevent their kids from joining gangs?
Parents shouldn’t necessarily suspect gang involvement just because their kids wear baggy pants and have an attitude—that’s the style nowadays. [But they should] look for changes in their children’s friends and behavior, such as declining grades, being isolated from friends and parents, staying out late unsupervised, using nicknames, graffiti or tattoos. Parents must speak frequently with their children and encourage their kids to discuss any problems or issues they encounter. Another key to prevention is setting limits. Finally, avoid denial. Parents can sometimes refuse to pay attention to indicators that their children may be involved in criminal activity.