Gang Resistance Program off to Great Start in Yakima Schools - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Gang Resistance Program off to Great Start in Yakima Schools

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YAKIMA, Wa -  The Yakima Police Department's newest weapon in the fight against gang violence -- education. They have started implementing the G.R.E.A.T. program at elementary and middle schools for this school year.

G.R.E.A.T. stands for 'Gang Resistance Education Assistance Training.' Four officers will be teaching the course to 22-hundred students at Yakima's elementary and middle schools throughout the school year.

The goal is to give them the tools they need to make the right choice if they're asked to join a gang.

Most schools are starting the great program this week. That includes Barge-Lincoln Elementary, where Officer David Cortez spent the morning with Ms. Nebriaga's fourth grade class.

A classroom may seem like an unlikely place for a police officer to fight crime.

"You think of being out on the streets, dealing with people, dealing with criminals," says Cortez, the coordinator of the G.R.E.A.T. program.

Today, he's teaching these fourth graders about decision making.  

"When I was growing up, I kind of felt that what you are around, that's what you are going to become," says Cortez.

Officer Cortez has been a Yakima Police Officer for 14 years, but he belonged to a gang when he was growing up in Southern California. He still has an old picture with gang members from those days.  In the lower left of the picture is his best friend who was murdered.  His brother is in the upper far right.  He's now in prison.

"I wish that there was a police officer out there that could've told me it was actually a lifestyle and you did have a choice on whether you were going to join a gang," says Cortez.

He learned that lesson the hard way -- on the streets, but hopes through role-plays and discussion, Ms. Nebriaga's fourth graders will learn it in the classroom.

"What we talked about is there are outcomes to those choices and if you choose to join a gang, they understand the outcome is going to be a negative one.  They end up hurt or in jail," says Cortez.