Almost a decade ago, two sergeants in the gang unit of the Oxnard Police Department had an epiphany.
Through their work in the field, Sgt. Daniel Shrubb and Sgt. Charles Woodruff saw firsthand the pitfalls so many teens succumb to, particularly within the realms of gangs and graffiti. They identified these as huge problems within their community, and were driven to take action.
“We were contacting a lot of young men and women that if they were shown the right way, they would go the right way,” says Sgt. Woodruff.
And who better to help guide kids down a more promising road than two respected local police officers with a 2006 Mustang?
From a single car in need of a makeover and two motivated police officers, DRAGG (Drag Racing Against Gangs and Graffiti) was born.
It has since blossomed into an after school program designed to provide kids in Ventura County with life skills, mentors, and technical training within the automotive industry, all with the goal of keeping teens out of gangs and helping get them jobs.
Sgt. Shrubb and Sgt. Woodruff are the co-executive directors of DRAGG, while continuing to serve full-time in the Oxnard Police Department.
Their program provides at-risk youth with an enticing alternative to gangs and graffiti with a range of classes from basic automotive repair to creative car customization. The course is held for 3 to 4 hours after school for high school juniors and seniors (16 through 18-year-olds), but will soon be available to freshmen and sophomores as well. Sgt. Woodruff says, “The idea is to get them in here, get them exposed, get them liking automotive. And maybe move them into more advanced classes.”
DRAGG also offers a safe substitute for dangerous joy-riding, street takeovers, and drag racing on city streets, by taking students on field trips to tracks where they can drift in a responsible, controlled environment. “We’re kind of taking a different approach to it,” says Sgt. Woodruff, “and saying look, don’t do it here. Come over here to the track and let’s do it together.”
DRAGG is comprised of a powerful trifecta of law enforcement, education, and the automotive industry. They partner with the Ventura County Office of Education to enforce the educational component of the program and ensure their effective reach of students from all over Ventura County. Despite serving kids from a variety of towns, some of whom are even gang rivals, Sgt. Woodruff says DRAGG students form a bond that runs deeper than territory lines. “They all come into this class and become one,” he says.
The program has also done the important work of breaking down the walls between young citizens and police officers. Sgt. Woodruff says that kids who call him “Officer” on the first day of class will undoubtedly be calling him by his nickname, Woody, come the end of the school year. These relationships have proved invaluable to teens in need of adults to confide in. “It’s about being able to mentor these young men and women in these classes,” he says, “to make them successful in the community.”
The aim is for DRAGG graduates to be able to land jobs or admittance into college after completing the program. At graduation, DRAGG gives out scholarships to exemplary seniors through partnerships with their sponsors like the Universal Technical Institute. Last year, UTI awarded $40,000 in scholarships to DRAGG students.
But DRAGG’s main overarching goal is to help every student develop skills they need to achieve success. For some students that might be within the automotive industry, or at a tech school, but for others it might be in another field. The lessons learned at DRAGG transcend cars, and can help kids excel in whatever revs their engine.
To date, DRAGG has shown almost 400 young men and women the road to success.
And this is just the beginning.
They have already expanded from one to three locations, with DRAGG programs successfully up and running at the Santa Barbara and Phoenix Police Departments respectively, in addition to its original Oxnard headquarters. Long term, they strive to have a DRAGG program at every police department in the country.