Gary Elkins may be too old, he jokes, to figure out Tumblr, but the veteran Garden Grove cop sure knows his way around Facebook.
And when Elkins logs onto the mega-social networking site, only his colleagues and superiors know — hopefully.
That’s because when Elkins logs onto Facebook, he poses as a high school kid — typically, as a fictitious female whose few hundred friends include taggers, dopers and underage drinkers.
Elkins’ goal: get leads on teens up to no good.
Social media is one of the many tools in Elkins’ kit as a special officer in the Youth Services Unit of the GGPD — one of four SOs who assist the Garden Grove Unified School District by maintaining a presence on 14 intermediate and high school campuses.
“A lot of this, for me, is just research to confirm my suspicions,” Elkins says as he logs onto his fake Facebook page.
“I use it for clues.”
Although many teens consider Facebook a place where boring adults hang out, preferring instead hipper social media sites like Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, plenty still use Facebook — and some post on it some pretty incriminating stuff.
Elkins checks out the homepage of one of his “friends.”
There are pictures of teens flashing gang signs and swilling hard liquor.
One male, using code words, posts that he has pot to sell.
“I could just sit here all day and peruse this and come up with an arrest today if I needed to,” Elkins says. “I guarantee it.”
But Elkins’ main goal, and that of the GGPD’s three other special officers, is to be on campuses as much as possible to respond to the needs of staff and students. So Elkins goes undercover on Facebook in fits and starts.
“I go on it on an as-needed basis,” Elkins says.
He will log on, however, after a big incident, such as the arson fire at Bolsa Grande High School in December 2014, to run names of suspects and monitor posts to see if possible suspects emerge. (In that incident, a 14-year-old 9th grader was arrested for starting the blaze and for making a bomb and school-shooting threat.)
ROOTS IN LAW ENFORCEMENT
Elkins, 51, always wanted to be a cop.
His father, Gary Orville Elkins, was a Long Beach officer who was killed on duty when Gary was 11.
On Jan. 1, 1976, the elder Elkins and his partner responded to an unknown trouble, “possible prowler” call. As Elkins walked to the front of the location he was ambushed and shot in the head.
He died at the scene, leaving behind his son, daughter, 3, and wife, 30.
A day hasn’t passed that Elkins hasn’t thought about his father.
“You would be surprised how much of you I take with me every day on the streets,” Gary Elkins wrote on a memorial web site for his slain father.
Elkins also has an uncle, Keith Elkins, who was a cop in Long Beach before finishing his career in Texas.
The younger Elkins took a detour after graduating from Pacifica High School in Garden Grove in 1982. He went to Cypress College to study art, and for a few years designed silkscreens for polo shirts. He also painted cars.
At age 26, Elkins put himself through the Criminal Justice Training Center at Golden West College.
But with hiring freezes in place when he graduated from the academy in summer 1991, Elkins landed a stint as a security guard at South Coast Plaza — a job he held for four years.
“I recall a guy threatening to jump off Planet Hollywood,” Elkins says of his South Coast Plaza days.
In 1994, Elkins became a reserve officer at the GGPD.
Two years later, he became a full-time cop there.
As a special officer, Elkins works school hours — a schedule he loves. During the summer, Elkins and his colleagues are reassigned to other GGPD details as needed.
Property and evidence.
Elkins surfs through his Facebook friends — the ones who’ve pegged him as a teenager with a druggy, offbeat vibe.
Elkins says he’s surprised that despite all the warnings and educational efforts, many teens still post inappropriate — and incriminating — material on their Facebook walls.
His fake Facebook page, he says, has led to “numerous” arrests.
Elkins finds a friend he recognizes as a tagger, but since he’s graduated from high school he isn’t on Elkins’ radar anymore.
Elkins mentions a recent fight between two students that happened on their way to one of the high schools to which he is assigned.
“This guy was in the fight,” Elkins says as he points to a picture. “He’s in a tagging crew, too. And this guy here? He’s in a gang. If you look at their (posts), they clearly are associated with that stuff.”
A few years ago, a teenager concluded that Elkins’ fake Facebook identity was just that.
F— the police, the Facebook friend sent Elkins in a private message.
But most of the time, he goes undetected.
“Nine times out of 10, when I send somebody a friend request, they say yes,” Elkins says.
“And whenever it’s my ‘birthday,’” he adds with a laugh, “I get all these random people on Facebook telling me happy birthday.”