In recent years, the Santa Cruz Police Department
has confronted gang violence with new officers, more patrols and a beefed-up gang task force. But SCPD is also investing in prevention with the PRIDE program, a ten-week course aimed at opening teens’ eyes to the gritty realities of street life.
, which stands for Personally Responsible Individual Development in Ethics, is aimed at middle-schoolers, boys and girls, who are failing their classes, defying their parents, and drifting into the orbit of neighborhood gangs.
“People in the schools, the teachers and administrators, they all know who these kids are,” said program manager Sgt. Michael Harms. “We work with the middle schools, Mission Hill and Branciforte, to ID the people teetering on the edge. They’re not full-blown gang members, and we’re trying to stop it before it begins.”
Candidates are selected by school officials, and invitations are issued to families. The program is voluntary, and open to ten participants per class. Each student is paired with an adult mentor who attends classes with their student and offers experience, advice and an open ear.
Like the “scared straight” programs of an earlier era, PRIDE begins with visits to the jail, the courthouse, the homeless shelter, a funeral home. Students experience the helplessness of being handcuffed, booked and brought before a judge – a troubling glimpse of one possible future path.
But PRIDE goes beyond the fear factor by devoting half its curriculum to the opportunities Santa Cruz has to offer, and teaching teens how to reach for higher goals. “We take them on a ropes course in
Corralitos, and flying in private planes at the Watsonville airport,” said mentor volunteer Patti Whitlock. “They got to do experiments in a chemistry lab at UCSC – that was the best.”
“Kids are really smart, and they figure out … if you make the right decisions, this is what you get,” Whitlock said. “And if you make the wrong decisions, that is what you get. It’s a doseof reality.”
Officer Joe Hernandez, co-founder of PRIDE, says he has seen positive change in every teen that has gone through the program, with some graduates completely turning their lives around.
Students’ parents are offered advice on positive discipline, child development and signs of possible gang or drug involvement. PRIDE recently graduated its second class, and a third is scheduled to begin in September.For information on volunteering or contributing to the PRIDE program, please contact Sgt. Harms or Officer Hernandez at (831) 420-5870.