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Roanoke Police sergeant redirects teenager from joining gang

Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 6:26 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - In his time wearing a badge, Sgt. Ken Custer has opened a lot of doors, and most days in the Roanoke Police Gang Unit, his days are spent behind a desk.

“Most of what we do in our job is intellectual gathering. We get out, talk to people, interview people, and look at reports,” said Custer.

Of the reports he looks at, Sgt. Custer doesn’t see those for kids who run away from home. But late this past summer, he did.

Inside that report was information that talked about a teenager wanting to join a gang. So with the help of Lloyd Merchant, who heads the RESET team, an intervention was planned. WDBJ7 is not disclosing any personal information about the boy for safety purposes.

“He was very receptive as soon as we came in, handshake, got to know him, figured out what he wants in his life, what he wants to do,” recalled Custer.

The conversation then shifted.

“And we talked a lot about history, about what’s been going on with that particular gang, the violence, the individuals who had been killed in the past and the back and forth going on in the street, which he really listened to because he sees it, he knows it, he’s heard about it,” said Custer.

“The thing that struck me the most with Sgt. Custer is that, I call it real talk, and he said ‘you know I don’t want to see you out here in the street and you’re down on the ground lifeless, first I don’t want to see that happen and second I’m the one who’s going to have to knock on your mom’s door to inform her what’s going on with you,’” said Merchant.

It was at that moment, Custer believes something clicked within the young man. In just a few months time, a mentor has played a big role in his life and he’s now making straight A’s in school.

“All we could do is open a door for him show him there’s more out there to life then being out on the street, and getting involved in things that he shouldn’t,” said Custer.

Of the doors opened, this door may have been the most important, not because of the STAR award it led to for Custer, but for the current outcome it led to in this boy’s life.

“That one? Brings hope that people can change,” said Custer.

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