Tustin PD launches GRADE, a blending of two units that’s now a ‘one-stop shop’ for fighting crime


Formerly, the Tustin Police Department’s Gang Unit was tasked with suppressing gang activity through plainclothes surveillance and high-visibility uniformed patrols.

The Special Enforcement Detail (SED) Unit, meanwhile, took a strategic approach to fighting crime by identifying specific problem areas in the city and focusing resources on those areas.

Since there was an overlapping of activities between the two units, command staff decided it made sense to combine the two units into one.

Tustin Police Department’s Sergeant David Welde leads the GRADE unit. Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

And that’s how the Gang Reduction and Directed Enforcement Unit, or GRADE, was formed.

Made up of two teams, each with a sergeant, a detective, and four officers, GRADE combines the roles of the former gang and SED units into a single operation.

The new unit, which launched Feb. 19, also works with officers from the County Department of Probation and a Homeland Security officer.

With two teams, GRADE now provides coverage of the city every day of the week. Both teams will work together one day a week.

On those days, the unit can take on larger duties such as parole and probation sweeps.

“It’s a better use of resources,” said Sgt. David Welde, who supervises the unit along with Sgt. Chris Gerber. “It’s got more consistent coverage throughout the week. It will just be more streamlined.”

The GRADE Unit already is making a difference.

Through its first 22 days, the unit has made 275 field contacts, conducted 59 parole/probation searches, made 27 misdemeanor arrests and 24 felony arrests.

Brian Girgenti, Travis Wilson, Dave Welde, Chris Gerber, Jorge Sanchez, and Javon Smith, from left, are members of the Tustin Police Department’s GRADE Unit. Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

The unit also has seized one firearm, 37.06 grams of methamphetamine, 12.8 grams of cocaine, 4.56 grams of heroin, 85 doses of Suboxone, and five Xanax pills.

On Feb. 19, GRADE officers conducted a probation search at a local residence and arrested a 27-year-old man for possession of Suboxone for sale and a Post Release Community Supervision warrant.

A 24-year-old male visitor at the residence was also arrested for possessing illegal drugs.

On Feb. 25, five suspects assaulted and robbed a 17-year-old of his cell phone and headphones.

With help from the department’s crime analyst, the GRADE team identified several suspects and on March 7, GRADE personnel converged on two locations in Santa Ana and arrested three adults without incident.

All arrestees are suspected members of a Tustin-based criminal street gang and were booked into Orange County Jail for robbery, conspiracy, and gang enhancements.

The GRADE Unit also handled a case involving a grand theft committed by two suspects at the Tustin Market Place on March 6.

With the help of the crime analyst, GRADE personnel quickly identified both suspects and, as a result, responded to an address in Tustin and tried to contact one of the suspects, a 26-year-old man.

The suspect refused to open the door and barricaded himself inside.

GRADE officers were able to breach the door and the suspect was arrested without further incident.  While at the residence, the officers recovered a great deal of evidence inside the home as well as from the suspect’s vehicle.

Tustin Police Department Sergeant David Welde. Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

The suspect was booked at Orange County Jail for grand theft.

The GRADE Unit will meet regularly with the department’s crime analyst to identify crime trends and patterns, using statistical data crime trend patterns. The goal is to predict where future crimes may occur.

“Since we are not tasked with calls for service, we have the time to go out and impact crime and make a difference,” Welde said. “We will also supplement patrol. You get to go look for things and try to stop something.”

When he first heard the department was forming the GRADE Unit, Gerber immediately expressed interest in wanting to be part of it.

“I worked gangs for six years as a detective, so this is like coming home for me,” Gerber said. “With the new spin on and the team, combining the two units, and the added responsibility, it’s going to be something that is highly sought after at the patrol level.”

The GRADE Unit also makes for more efficient communication, Gerber said.

“It’s easier for patrol, investigations and all the other divisions in our agency to just come up to talk to the GRADE Unit instead of having to go to Gangs or SED,” Gerber said. “It’s a one-stop shop. The unit is just open to whatever it’s going to take to get the job done.”