A fenced-in drainage area in the Old Keene Mill commuter lot in Burke is laced with graffiti. Fairfax County Police have identified some of it as being gang related, which has led them to launch a program to clean the area up. Starting June 1, officers from the West Springfield District station are joining forces with the neighborhood watch group in the community of Keene Mill Woods II and merchants from the Rolling Valley Mall to address the situation.
"This community has been plagued by youth crimes," said Officer Rex Pagerie, one of the crime prevention officers at West Springfield.
The graffiti was identified by the police gang unit as signs from several known gangs in the area, including the Crips and MS-13. Some of the graffiti was hostile in nature, according to Pagerie.
"When you get one gang disrespecting another, there's problems. You have to take this very seriously," Pagerie said.
Part of the plan is to replace the wooden fence with chain link fencing, thereby making the area visible. That includes the removal of shrubbery and increased patrols through the commuter parking lot.
"We want to hold a community meeting with all the businesses in there," said Pagerie, referring to the Rolling Valley Mall that is linked to the lot and community with several paved paths.
Farzana Karim works at the Ross store in that shopping center. Graffiti was on the Ross wall as well. Sometimes, Karim doesn't feel safe in the parking lot and would like to see some of the bushes cut back, the trash cleaned up and the fence fixed.
"We need our safety too," Karim said, and wanted "more lights on the backside."
A Burke resident named Jennifer shops at the shopping center but didn't feel safe in the whole area. She did not want to give her last name.
"I know this area is getting kind of rough. It used to be nice," said Jennifer.
She lived in Burke for more than 30 years and now worries about her daughter who attends Ravensworth Elementary School. She wondered if any of the school gang efforts or the police would do any good.
"I think if they upgraded the shopping center, that might be better," she said.
Lake Braddock junior Oriana Layendecker did hear some gang warnings at school in which students were told to report anything suspicious.
"There's some gangs and stuff that vandalized the school," Oriana said.
Paul Regnier, Fairfax County Schools spokesperson, said that the hazards of gangs are addressed in the regular health curriculum as well as a conflict resolution program in the middle school grades.
"There is some work in the health curriculum to say no to gangs. Gangs are brought up in the conflict resolution program but it's not specifically about gangs," said Regnier.
Eric Suarez, a resident of Keene Mill Woods II, works in the shopping center. He was aware of the neighborhood watch in his neighborhood but wasn't aware of any problems.
THE FAIRFAX COUNTY POLICE are incorporating a landscaping company to change the fences and put up a guardrail between the drainage area and the parking lot. Pagerie called it "crime prevention through environmental design." Pagerie is also in touch with the sheriff's office to incorporate a work release program to clean up the area.
"It's an area that needs attention. It's not going to work unless we have cooperation between the citizens and businesses," he said.
The bike patrol did make a narcotics arrest in the area in April. Pagerie wants to boost bike patrols as well as the auxiliary officers.
"We did boost the patrols using our bike officers. We'll try to boost [patrols] up and bring the crime rate down," Pagerie said.