Roseville police explain gang validation process

Department leadership answers questions after concerns from families
By: Jorden P. Hales of Press Tribune
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At the request of the council members, the Roseville Police Department recently made a presentation to city leadership on its gang validation process. The move was intended to answer criticism against the department from a local family who recently had two members convicted in a jury trial of gang-related crimes.   

Roseville Lt. Troy Bergstrom – who created the department’s crime suppression unit – addressed the council, along with Police Chief Daniel Hahn and Sgt. Doug Blake. It’s Blake who is currently in charge of managing the gang validation program.

“State law basically says that a criminal street gang is any group of three or more members, whether formal or informal, that identifies with a common name, symbol or identifying sign, where the members individually or collectively engage in a pattern of criminal gang activity,” Blake explained to city leaders.

Blake, Bergstorm and other members of the police department have been in correspondence with local residents since 2014 about concerns of racial profiling by the city’s gang unit. Among them, Katherine Baldwin and Sabrina Gomez, who brought their concerns to the council on March 18. Katherine is the mother of Danny and Bronson Baldwin, who, along with Pedro Gomez-Vigil and Elvis Eltagonde, were convicted by a Placer County jury in September of making gang-related threats around a heroin-sales operation in Roseville.

In the face of the jury verdict, Katherine Baldwin soon penned a letter to the Press Tribune comparing Roseville to Ferguson, Missouri. She echoed that sentiment to city council members on March 18.

“My main concern right now is how they’re validating the Mexican community,” Baldwin said at the meeting.

Baldwin added that despite her correspondence with officers, she has been unable to meet in person with Roseville law enforcement. She believes her sons, and several others, have been “wrongfully” validated as Norteno gang members.

“In court, officers with the gang task force testified under oath that an “SF” tattoo was gang related, a certain handshake and certain NFL memorabilia is gang related,” she continued, referencing the validation of her son, Danny Baldwin. She also noted specific concerns about the language used by Bergstrom in a Fox 40 television news report, when he told the station’s crew a “trained eye” was necessary to identify potential gang members.

“I’m not against the police, I’m just against how they validated my son,” she told city council members.

Yet one of the largest gang cases Roseville detectives have successfully made in the last two years — against validated Norteno member Mohammad Noor and three others accused of selling laced heroin and threatening witnesses — involved no Hispanic defendants at all. Additionally, since 2013, officers have dealt with two separate incidents where Roseville citizens were almost shot by validated gang members.

Defending gang enforcement, Blake explained nine criteria – including clothing, neighborhoods an individual frequents, specific crimes ranging from simple assault to armed robbery and drive-by shootings, and nicknames or monikers used among gang mates – that can be used for a validation.

“With those specifically enumerated gang crimes, there is additional exposure to sentencing, when we prove that those crimes were committed by gang members,” Blake said. “With that additional criminal exposure, we have parameters given to us by the current federal regulation, in addition to state law, whereby we maintain a criminal intelligence file on active gang members, and that is basically a conglomeration of individual gang validations.”

The process of validating an individual gang member may begin with any police contact, including traffic stops, arrests and investigations. At least two of the listed criteria must be identified to validate a person. Related validations are cross-referenced with those of related members.

According to Roseville police, once an adult person is validated as a gang member, there is no formal process through which they are able to have their validation expunged, though if an individual is not validated for five years, they are no longer recognized as a gang member.

Blake noted that juvenile validations are taken as an opportunity to discus intervention measures with parents and facilitate other corrective approaches, and stressed that the department is careful not to make validations public unnecessarily. 

“There are several authorities that prevent that from happening,” Blake assured the council. “It’s also protected by a ‘needing to know basis,’ even with other law enforcement officers. If they are investigating a crime, and they need to know the status of someone, whether or not they are a validated gang member, then they have a right to access it. Beyond that, there is no access for them randomly or arbitrarily.”

Hahn also addressed the city council from the vantage point of leading the Roseville Police Department.

“Being a gang member, in it of itself, is not against the law,” Hahn acknowledged. “Committing a crime in furtherance of your gang is what is against the law. In term of the gang validation processes…all that’s happened is you are validated in our intelligence file. There’s no way a private employer or someone like that could find out.”