Vargas: The solution to the gang problem is keeping kids out of gangs in the first place


Gang crime is rearing its ugly head again in Orange County.

On Thursday, Feb. 18, in Santa Ana, detectives were conducting proactive enforcement efforts targeting gang members. At some point during the course of the investigation they ran into Carlos Michael Rodriquez.

Mr. Rodriquez had only been out of prison for eight months. Not so surprising his prior conviction was for felony assault on a police officer with a weapon.

It appears luck was on the side of the Santa Ana officer who suffered a graze to the head from a gunshot. A matter of inches made a huge difference. He definitely had angels watching over him.

On Wednesday night, Feb. 17, in Anaheim, Joel Lopez, a known gang member, allegedly shot a Taco Bell employee. According to police, the employee was asked where he was from. Apparently the answer he gave wasn’t the right one.

The employee had no gang ties and was just a young man trying to get to work.

On Thursday morning, Feb. 18, Santa Ana officers were conducting a burglary investigation when they came in contact with the possible suspects. Two suspects are now deceased. The events leading up to the shooting are not completely known, but a handgun was recovered at the scene.

According to the Santa Ana Police Department, both suspects have gang ties.

Police agencies across Orange County are doing what they can. This includes proactive contacts, probation and parole searches and making arrests when they can.

The results have paid off in reductions in gang crime across the county over the last decade.

Gang crime is often violent and spontaneous in nature. Young men who with no thought of consequences act out violently for seemingly senseless reasons.

Just ask the family of 9-year-old Ximena Meza. It was just over a year ago she was shot and killed after she was caught in the crossfire of a gang drive-by in Anaheim.

Gang-related crime is not just specific to neighborhoods. Its reach goes beyond neighborhood or city boundaries.

Gangs are bad news. They are bad for neighborhoods, cities and the police. They are bad for the neighborhood kids who look up to them and the families who struggle to keep their children out of them.

Proactive enforcement is only part of the answer.

The solution to the gang problem is keeping kids out of gangs in the first place.

Keeping kids out of gangs should be a priority for any community. Prevention strategies work most effectively when there is collaboration between non-profits, schools and city resources.

While enforcement efforts continue, we also have to catch kids before they make choices that will impact them for a lifetime. Programs such as Anaheim Cops 4 Kids, GRIP and Boys and Girls Clubs are one way to keep kids out of the gang lifestyle.

The investment in keeping a child out of gangs will reap benefits in safer communities and more productive citizens. Maybe it’s time we started investing a little bit more. Lives could depend on it.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at