Sunday, June 24 , 2018, 6:52 am | Overcast 63º


Cynder Sinclair: Chief Sanchez Dedicated to Helping Young People Find the Right Decisions

The email surprised Police Chief Cam Sanchez when he received it a number of years ago. His presentation that afternoon obviously hit home with one of his young listeners, who wrote, “You said you would help. I need your help. I’m a gang member. You have never arrested me because you never caught me. I want to get out of gangs you said you would help, here I am.”

Luis had attended Sanchez’s presentation earlier that day at Santa Barbara High School.

“It took a lot of courage for Luis to send me that email,” says Sanchez. The next day Sanchez met with the self-proclaimed gang member in his office.

Luis arrived on time, explaining “I have to get out of this life of crime. My siblings are looking up to me but for the wrong reasons. I want to go to high school but if I go to Santa Barbara or San Marcos High, I’ll be a dead man walking.  I won’t last a day.”

He wanted to go to Bishop Garcia Diego High School, a private Roman Catholic school. Sanchez explained that Bishop is very expensive, and Luis said he had no money, his father ignores him and his mother cries all the time because he is a gang member.

Sanchez called the Bishop principal to explain the situation: Luis has excellent grades, speaks fluent English and Spanish, is smart. . . and he is a gang leader.

Sanchez challenged the principal to make a difference in Luis’s life by giving him a four-year scholarship if he passed the entrance exam. Sanchez promised to pay for all Luis’s books. The principal agreed.

Luis passed the exam and got the scholarship. He is almost finished at Santa Barbara City College and will go on to UC Santa Barbara or UC Santa Cruz next fall. He wants to be a lawyer.

If you saw Luis today you wouldn’t believe he was ever a gang member. He transformed his life because he made a good decision.

This outstanding young man enjoys making presentations at his former junior high school to encourage students to make good decisions for themselves, and his story is only one that Chief Sanchez shared with me in a recent interview.

Nonprofits in Non-English-Speaking Communities

We have so many nonprofits in our community and they do a fantastic job. They usually select great people for their boards who really care about Santa Barbara.

One thing nonprofits could do better is more outreach to the non-English-speaking community. Many in our non-English-speaking communities are not aware of the wonderful opportunities available to them.

Sixty percent of the kids participating in PAL (Police Activities League) come from families where English is not the first language. Parents are non-English speaking.

When PAL first started, about 12 years ago, we had a lot of issues with gang incidents — drive-by shootings, robberies and murders. In many parts of the community 100 percent of the victims and the gangs were Latino. That was a big problem.

Latinos Fighting Against Latinos

About 10 or 11 years ago we started monthly radio shows in the communities where the majority of crimes were being committed — Latinos fighting against Latinos.

We weren’t profiling; we were trying to show how community members were hurting their own community members.

We went to all the schools to speak with parent groups, starting at Harding and Franklin schools.

When we sent the flyers home inviting the parents to come to a meeting about PAL, we wondered how many would show up. Turned out it was so packed we ran out of chairs.

Parents wanted help for their kids, some of whom were getting into gangs and others were being victimized by the gangs.

We started talking to parents about PAL on Spanish radio. We realized these kids are the new generation so we started the Citizen's Academy — two in English and two in Spanish.

There was a long waiting list for Spanish ones. PAL is a good model for how nonprofits can reach out to the non-English-speaking community. Reaching out to this community makes a significant impact.

The Reduction in Violent Crime

Gang crime has decreased by 80 percent over the past 4 to 5 years; violent crime by 90 percent. Why did this happen?

Yes, we have been aggressive with enforcement, but crime is also down because of PAL, the Citizen Academy, the Spanish radio shows, and the Explorer Program.

These four programs engage the parents. I tell the parents I’m not here to save your child. That’s your job. But I can give you a tool to use.

Here’s the background on the story at the opening of this article. Several years ago, John Becchio, principal of Santa Barbara High School got tired of all the gang activity at his school so he started a class for gang members, putting rival gang members in the same room seated next to each other.

He invited me in as a guest speaker. There were 30 eighth graders seated in the class that day, all ready to go to high school the next year. I wondered if I should speak to them in a politically correct way or just talk from my heart.

Short-Lived Lives

As I prepared for my talk, I looked at a photo of me and my buddies when we were in eighth grade. I noticed that all the guys in the picture who were gang members are dead; most of them didn’t even make it to age 25.

I decided to speak from my heart and tell them how I grew up poor in a rough part of LA with lots of gangs. I was not an angel — I got in trouble at school and even got kicked out once —​ but I was scared of going to jail or getting killed.

I asked each guy if he ever talks to the guy sitting next to him. Each one said, “No, because he is a rival gang member.” After a while they realized how much they had in common.

All of them were born in Cottage Hospital; most of their fathers are gardeners and their mothers clean houses. Their parents came from the same part of Mexico.

I asked one guy why he was so angry. “My father is in prison for murder, my mother is in prison for selling drugs and I live with my grandmother, so I have nothing," he said. "Gangs are my destiny.”

I looked into the eyes of each of these eighth grade gang members and said, “What the hell is wrong with you people? Gangs do not have to be your destiny! I grew up in the same environment you have and the only reason I’m still alive is I made good choices. You can too.”

                                                                 •        •        •

Camerino Sanchez, whose retirement begins February 2016, was appointed to the position of Chief of Police for the Santa Barbara Police Department in November 2000. Prior to this appointment, he served as Chief of Police of San Rafael Police Department (1997 to 2000) and Hollister Police Department (1993 to 1997).

Camerino Sanchez began his law enforcement career in 1981 when he joined the Los Angeles Police Department. In the LAPD, he served as a police officer, detective and sergeant.  

Chief Camerino Sanchez holds a bachelor's degree in public administration and a master's in human resources and organizational development.

Chief of Police Camerino Sanchez has been the President of the California Police Chiefs Association. He has also served with the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Cal-Chiefs Executive Board.

He is the recipient of numerous community service and association awards. Camerino Sanchez contributed to Law Enforcement, Communication and Community.

— Dr. Cynder Sinclair is a consultant to nonprofits and founder and CEO of Nonprofit Kinect. She has been successfully leading nonprofits for 30 years and holds a doctorate in organizational management. To read her blog, click here. To read her previous articles, click here. She can be contacted at 805.689.2137 or [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.

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