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A GREAT influence on youth: Lodi PD brings back program focused on gang deterrence

Lodi News-Sentinel - 2/29/2024

Feb. 24—Sixteen years ago, the Lodi Police Department started a new program to deter local youngsters from joining gangs, as well as reduce gang activity in the city. The Gang Resistance Education and Training Program (GREAT) allowed the department to develop protocols for its student resource officers, as well as put them in local classrooms to promote the importance of avoiding gangs.

Spearheaded by former officer Shana Brucia, and funded through federal grants, the program was a success in Lodi until it was discontinued in late 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, Brucia and former officer Jim Pendergast have brought the 13-week program back to Lodi Unified campuses through a grassroots fundraising effort.

She and Pendergast visit Beckman Elementary School fifth-grade students every Tuesday, and officers Jerry Bahr and Kristina Deanda visit fifth-graders at Lawrence Elementary School every Thursday.

"We're excited it's finally back," Brucia said. "This was initiated to give them that immunization to gangs, and maybe curb difficult behaviors in some of the students. The kids really seem to love it, and we love teaching it.

This week was the sixth for the program, and Bahr and Deanda were discussing non-verbal communication with students in Sokheem Sy-Prom's and Douglas Tornburg's fifth-grade classes.

Bahr said the kids are excited about coming to the class, mostly because it's different to have officers teaching a course.

The first week is an introductory class, and the students ask everything from what the "craziest" call officers have responded to, how much money they make, and how many dogs they have at home.

"I think the kids are real responsive," Bahr said. "You start to see, when you're talking to them, there are some who probably don't need this class. But there's definitely some who don't realize they're living in an environment that isn't average."

Each student is given a gray GREAT T-shirt to wear, and then Bahr and Deanda continue with the day's lesson.

"I like the class because (the officers) are really nice and funny," said Anaum Afzal, 10. "And I've learned that friendship is very valuable."

Students were asked how well they interact with others through methods such as eye contact and listening. They were also asked to list the different kinds of emotions people feel everyday, including sadness, anger, anxiety and frustration among others.

The students also acted out emotion through charades, miming a game-winning basketball shot, or a third strike to end a baseball game.

"They are funny and they help us," said Awais Khan, 10. "And when we need help they have our back.

And I've learned that classmates can help you whenever you need."

Brucia said the GREAT program has produced positive results, as gang incidents have declined in Lodi over the years.

As an example, there were only 45 incidents reported in 2022, compared to 253 in 2011.

She even recalled a student reporting a crime to her and Pendergast when they first began the program in 2008.

"There was a fire at Beckman where the entire jungle gym was destroyed," she said. "We went into the class we were teaching, and we asked the students what they thought. Afterward, a student approached us and said they knew who started the fire. We were eventually able to make an arrest and reimburse the school."

Students will graduate from the GREAT program in May.

To learn more about the Lodi Police Department's SROs, visit their new Instagram page @lodipd_sro.


(c)2024 the Lodi News-Sentinel (Lodi, Calif.)

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