BCSO Gang Prevention Program
Opting Out of Gangs
By Amanda C. Kooser
Gang Prevention Takes Teamwork
Lieutenant Jessica Tyler with the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office is a team player. She heads up the Opt Out gang prevention program that works with eight middle and high schools in the Albuquerque Public Schools district. She is not alone. Teams of school resource officers, social workers, gang detectives,Youth Development Inc. (YDI) specialists, and juvenile probation officers join together to lend a helping hand to high risk students and their families. "It's part intervention and part prevention. We try to get as many resources available as possible and go do home visits with kids that we've identified as being at risk through the school resource officers," says Tyler.
Tyler came up with the idea for Opt Out in 2008 as a way to improve communications with the community and help steer kids in a positive direction. Her goal is to prevent gang problems before they happen. "This is something that we don't normally get a chance to do and I thought this would be something the families can benefit from," she says.
It all starts in the schools themselves. School resource officers are a law enforcement presence at the schools, but they are also on a mission to help students make positive and healthy choices. When they notice signs of students heading down the wrong path, they can call in the Opt Out team. "School resource officers have daily contact with the students at school. They can really see the student's behavior, who they are hanging out with, how they are dressing and if they've been caught doing anything with graffiti," says Tyler.
Bringing it Home
The Opt Out team swings into action by making a personal visit to the student's home to talk to the student and family. One of the biggest messages is that they are not alone and that there is still time to make better choices and opt out of the dangerous gang lifestyle. "Sometimes we have kids and parents that are in denial, but in most instances the families are very receptive. Once they get over the initial shock, they are usually very appreciative. We've never been turned away," says Tyler.
Opt Out's most recent operation in September resulted in all four families enrolling for services with YDI. Opt Out connects families with a variety of resources ranging from family counseling to extra curricular activities for students. "It's important for us to show the parents that we care about their kids and we're not just there to take them to jail," says Tyler. "It shows that the resources that are available in our community can be utilized in manners that aren't necessarily conventional." After the home intervention, the school resource officers keep tabs on the students.
Safe Schools/Healthy StudentsTyler has been a Safe Schools/Healthy Students core team member since the start of the grant. This helped her bring YDI specialists into the Opt Out program. "For me, it's about building relationships. Having more interaction between agencies has been really positive," she says. It all comes back to the importance of teamwork. "In the bigger picture, we want to change the systems that we have and make things easier and more accessible for members of the community," says Tyler. The Opt Out program is proof that a creative approach to gang prevention can have a lasting impact on the community.
- News Briefs - (Created: 07-06-12)
- School to Prison Pipeline - (Created: 07-06-12)
- Improving School Discipline Procedures: Context and Local Action - (Created: 07-06-12)
- Juvenile Justice and Mental Health Collaboration - (Created: 08-15-11)
- New Day - (Created: 02-06-11)
- Youth Risk and Resiliency Surveys - Bernalillo County - (Created: 11-15-10)
- Prevention Intervention Program for Youth (PIPY) - (Created: 08-25-10)
- Early Childhood Collaboration - (Created: 06-01-10)
- Reports and Resources - (Created: 05-21-10)
- Community Collaboration - (Created: 05-21-10)