On a mission - Page 6

Two Mission cops decided they'd rather get jobs for gang members than keep arresting them. And it's working.

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Officers hold intervention for families with at-risk kids at the Mission station.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY AMANDA LOPEZ

"This is what we really need to be doing," Cathey tells me. "Getting gang members to change is hard. If we can get them early enough, we have a much better chance."

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I've been a political reporter for 30 years. I write, mostly, about intractable social problems. I know that poverty and desperation lead to crime, that broken families and inadequate schools put young people at risk of falling into violence. I am under no illusions.

When I first heard about Cathey and Sands, I thought: They're cops. Most of the time, cops aren't the best answer to deep-seated social problems and the crime that results. And I'm not going to pretend that these guys are softies — you have a warrant out, you get caught in the act, they'll pull you in, and it won't necessarily be nice.

What they're doing won't end gang violence in San Francisco, not by itself. Everyone knows that. This is a huge issue, one that will become more and more pronounced as the crazy, ancient and pointless war between the Norteños and Sureños plays out in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

Cathey and Sands are by no means the only people fighting to end the carnage. Nonprofits, educators, social service agencies and others have spent years trying to break the gang cycle.

But there they are, every day, two guys with badges who see the blood and the pain on the streets, and are trying, with little bureaucracy or resources, to stop it. To save lives. One kid at a time.

"If we could get into all the middle schools, if we could expand this out, that's what would really work," Cathey told me. "That's where we can have the biggest impact.

Crime would come down; it would have to.

"I've been trying to get a meeting with the mayor." Paging Room 200, City Hall: Is anyone listening?