County Efforts Target Gangs

County Efforts Target Gangs

Instead of addressing the sole issue of gangs in the Braddock District, Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) is looking into possible places where gangs gather, and she has expanded her latest initiative to include revitalization as well.

"We've had a number of incidents incidents that happened in the Annandale area that concern me," Bulova said.

Bulova's referring to a stabbing in the Heritage Shopping Mall on December 11 and an assault at Poe Middle School on January 12. Both incidents were gang related according to police.

Bulova's Community Dialogue on Gang Activity and Revitalization Issues is a five-part series that kicks off on Wednesday, Feb. 11. The series will address gang and revitalization issues, instilling the sense of community in the Braddock District.

"Revitalization wears a number of faces," Bulova said. "Hopefully, the group will have some suggestions on how we deal with it more effectively. We want to come together as a community to make it not OK to engage in gang activity."

In particular, Bulova is targeting Ossian Park. Located across the street from Annandale High School, the wooded environment has concealed gang activity in the past. Bulova wants to address the park issues and possibly turn part of the park into school fields.

"We're taking back the park," Bulova said. "It's a very heavily wooded park. Annandale High School would like to have some of that space for athletic fields. There's a lot of support."

A safe park would be "a selling point for reinvesting in the community," Bulova said.

Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) met with community members in his district on the gang issue last September. Gangs are not limited to any one area, he said.

"We do have some concerns countywide," Kauffman said.

Chairman Gerry Connolly (D) issued an initiative at the Board of Supervisors meeting Monday, Jan. 26, to address the gang issue using a multi-faceted approach. Connolly wants to combine forces of the police, schools, community and recreation services, human services, the health department and parents.

"I ask that the County Executive report to the Board on a proposed design for this initiative as soon as possible," Connolly wrote.

THE CENTRAL SPRINGFIELD AREA is going through a revitalization effort as well. That effort is driven by economic factors rather than as a means to thwart gangs, as in the Braddock District. One of the angles Kauffman is looking at is the use of area shopping malls as possible gang "turf."

"We need to contact management," Kauffman said.

An anti-gang stance is one of the criteria the Board of Supervisors is using when looking at individuals to fill the vacant chief of police position, Kauffman said.

Del. Chap Petersen (D-37th) attended the initial meeting addressing gangs back in December. The meeting was sponsored by both Bulova and School Board member Tessie Wilson. The police gang unit showed some alarming pictures and statistics about the gang problem, so Petersen is adapting a bill of his own that makes it illegal to initiate someone into a gang. He's introducing a "hazing," bill in the General Assembly.

"Any initiation rite or ritual would be a Class 1 misdemeanor," Petersen said.

After the meeting in December, Petersen sat down with then chief of police Tom Manger and worked out some possible solutions.

"What more can we do?" he asked. "That's where we got the idea."

Initially, Petersen tacked his amendment onto an existing hazing bill, House Bill 18.2-56, which stated, "It shall be unlawful to haze so as to cause bodily injury, any student at a school, college or university."

Petersen's amendment would add "or any member of a youth gang as defined in 16.1-299.2 or a criminal street gang as defined in 18.2-46.1."

One problem, Petersen said, was that people who participate in the initiation ritual do so by choice, so it would be difficult to prosecute. Petersen argued that the youths are too young to make that decision.

"[The bill] takes that consent off the books," he said.

BULOVA'S SERIES is open to anyone interested in addressing the revitalization and gang issues. The first meeting includes a presentation by the Fairfax County Police gang unit.

Bulova has invited speakers to several of the future meetings. On April 14, Ken Howard of the U.S. Department of Justice is scheduled to speak.