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Gang Task Force Begins Phase Two

As schools start, gang education moves forward.

To help promote awareness and educate teachers and administrators about gangs and gang-related behaviors, the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force launched the second phase of its anti-gang campaign at the end of August.

"They are passing out pamphlets, and are offering presentations at meetings with teachers about what to look for," said Herndon Police Public Information Officer, Sgt. Jerry Keys. "They're starting on the news, and throughout the school year, there will be other things for kids to do."

The task force planned the second phase, of the three-phase campaign, to start as schools resumed, offering education to teachers and administrators to assist them in identifying gang colors, activities, behaviors and how to properly deal with a gang-related situation.

"You can't deal with gangs in an assembly," said Herndon High School principal, Janice Leslie. "We've tried to do one-on-one and small group-type things."

Leslie said the high school has been working toward ridding its environment of gang activity and educating students and staff for at least two years.

Through the gang task force, Leslie said faculty and staff have been educated to discern which behaviors could potentially be gang related.

"You can't label kids," said Leslie of how staff should address possible gang members. "But we don't tolerate overt gang [behavior] like flashing signs, gang colors, gang clothing."

LEESBURG Police Chief, Joe Price, said Loudoun County has done similar educational events on every level of education.

"Sixth grade is the age we want to hit with the initial program," said Price, executive board gang task force member. "We also want to provide more education to eighth graders because the middle school age is the most vulnerable for young people."

Price explained the work they have done includes the release of public service announcements, or PSAs, over the local television stations as well as the distribution of brochures and further school faculty education.

"We've worked closely with Loudoun County schools and offered training for SROs [school resource officers] in the high schools, middle schools and elementary - we have many in the umbrella," said Price.

Price explained that the SROs are placed in every school and offer extra support.

"Our SROs are trained above what a normal police officer would be in gang education" said Price, adding because they have more gang knowledge, they work with students to combat gang participation. "The SROs are trained with GREAT [Gang Resistance Education and Training] ... and know if a gang issue comes up they can request the assistance of the gang task force."

TOUSSAINT SUMMERS, JR., chief of police for Herndon, said that the town's public school teachers have received educational training, but will not see any in-school education.

Outside of the posters and brochures supplied by the task force, further in-school education will come from non-school related organizations, school planned programs, or through after-school programs.

"We have funds that support Vecinos Unidos and funds for someone to mentor the kids through the police department," said Summers, executive board member of the task force. "Mainly we're educating kids and trying to keep them occupied while telling them about the dangers of gangs."

Summers said that through the second phase, the task force has put together a video for teachers to watch as well as brochures for parents and concerned guardians to take home and educate themselves on the signs of gang involvement.

"Through GREAT we have gang ratification verifications where funding is included," said Summers. "There are posters going up and we have mentoring programs at various locations after school."

Although the police department does not offer direct involvement with the schools in relation to student education programs, they do have SROs present each day and Summers said there is a strong effort by the department to "educate kids about gangs so they don't want to join and to keep those who are on the borderline from joining."

Leslie said the school has held previous gang education forums where guest speakers from outside groups talk about the negative effects of gangs.

She said the school also tries to intervene when they can to prevent potential gang involvement, although she added it can be hard to decipher who is involved and who is not.

"You have to be very careful so you don't accuse or glorify gang behavior," said Leslie. "We walk a fine line in trying to get the message across in the right way."

KEYS SAID that although the school education is crucial, so is the education of parents and the community.

"They will be running PSAs more often," said Keys about television advertisements against gangs. "They'll have information for parents to get a hold of so they can see what's going on, and we will have Spanish versions ... we're still working on those translations because different portions of the Latino world read and speak different versions, so we're trying to hit the largest group."

The next step in the anti-gang campaign is phase three, which Price and Summers said will include intervention and a safe and effective way for gang members to exit gang life and start on a new path.

"Our hope for the program is that we have a successful strategy across the region," said Price. "We, the law enforcement and educational community, realize it [will] take a multi-year, multi-phase approach, but we hope the phase two suppression will be successful with the help of task force intelligence."