See the full story when it airs on 23ABC Thursday May 10, 2018 at 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The Bakersfield Police Department's Special Enforcement Unit, also known as the gang unit, has been gaining attention in recent months. A massive gang sweep in December, new shot spotter technology placed in known gang areas and soon all gang unit officers will be outfitted with body cameras.
23ABC was given exclusive access to ride along with the gang unit to see what those officers do as they work around the clock to try and stay one step ahead and keep the community safe.
As gang unit officers will tell you, there's no such thing as a typical shift.
A shift can include serving search warrants, making consensual contact with people, responding to violent crimes, making traffic stops or a mix of all of them and a quite night can change instantly.
Sergeant Ryan Kroeker, who worked in the gang unit from 2008-2011 knows how unpredictable a night on the streets can be.
"There's a lot to the life of a gang officer. A lot to trying to prevent these gang crimes from happening," he said.
The officers move around town strategically, constantly on the lookout and screening cars as they pass by.
It's their job to recognize known gang members on sight and to know their routines and habits.
"Knowing who their friends are, knowing what they drive, knowing where they live, knowing if they have warrants, knowing if they're on probation, knowing if they're on parole," Sgt. Kroeker said.
Officers are also on the lookout for gang members with outstanding warrants, on parole or probation, or outside of their known territory.
These officers say seeing a known gang member in a rival gang's area could signal that something is about to happen. If officers intercept the person before anything unfolds, it could be the difference between life and death.
"Taking that proactive approach is huge in getting these guns off the streets because we know if you don't have a gun, you can't do a shooting," Sgt. Kroeker said.
Take a look at the gang territory map for #Bakersfield and learn more about why @bakersfieldpd believe certain areas have more violent crime than others on @23ABCNews at 5 p.m. pic.twitter.com/iwfXZtvHYx
— Jessica Harrington (@Jessica23ABC) May 10, 2018
Bakersfield is broken up into known gang territories and some rival gangs like the East Side Crips and West Side Crips are only separated by six lanes of traffic on Union Avenue.
BPD said the short distance gives gang members the opportunity to go into a rival gang's territory, commit a crime and be back in their own territory within minutes.
Sgt. Kroeker said he believes that's why there's so much violence between the west side crips and east side crips as well as issues between the east side crips and country boy crips because those gangs are so close together.
Since gang officers understand the territories, they know how to respond when violence arises.
While some officers heard to the incident, others head to the territory of the gang that is likely responsible, hoping to catch suspects before they get home.
Sgt. Kroeker said because the gang unit studies gang members so much, if a suspect vehicle goes out from a shooting in known gang territories, gang officers start thinking about who drives that type of vehicle and heads to where that person likes to hang out to try to track down the potential suspect.
There's less obvious signs that signal trouble as well, like tagging in neighborhoods.
It's valuable information to gang officers and can tip them off to tensions they were unaware of.
"It's looking at [tagging], utilizing that with intelligence that we've gathered with people that we've arrested to try to figure out who's fighting with who so we can try to prevent shootings from happening, so that we can try to put ourselves in the right place to disrupt violence from occurring.
Less tactical moves include showing up at public places where a large amount of known gang members are hanging out.
Sgt. Kroeker said the gang unit likes to make their presence known so that the group doesn't become an easy target for a drive-by shooting.
Officers in the gang unit said they're constantly working to stay one step ahead of gang members in hopes of keeping the community safe.