Maria Clemens is president of Loudoun Education Alliance of Parents (LEAP). As gang activity becomes more visible in Loudoun County, the mother of three boys has made an effort to attend informational meeting on gangs.
"I’m fairly aware of the overall situation. I try and stay up-to-date," Clemens said.
At a LEAP meeting Wednesday, Feb. 8, U.S. Congressman Frank R. Wolf (R-10) advised Loudoun County parents not to be fooled; there is a gang problem in Northern Virginia.
"All of the information was helpful, especially to parents who have not followed the topic closely in the past," Clemens said.
WOLF SPOKE TO local parents about Loudoun County gang activity at the Loudoun County School Administration Building in Ashburn.
"Loudoun County has some gangs, but we’re less than most.… My goal is to have none," Wolf said.
He plans to wipe out gangs three ways: law enforcement, intervention and education.
"I believe we have an obligation to protect the most vulnerable in our community. No one in this community should live in fear," Wolf said. "A lot of money is going into intervention and prevention."
Loudoun County’s Gang Response Intervention Team (GRIT) coordinator Dan Carver compares gangs to a contagious disease.
"They are very infectious," he said. "In order to stop the spread of gangs, you have to contain the infection, treat the infected, remove the tattoos, and immunize, or educate."
Carver, a father of two, said adolescents are at a high risk of becoming involved in gangs.
The National Youth Gang Center reported that young people join gangs to be a part of group and for protection they believe a gang will provide them.
"Gangs pray upon kids that don’t fit in," Carver said.
Carver stressed the importance of a parent’s role to educate their children about the dangers of gangs.
"A dose of protective factors a day keeps the gangs away," he said.
THE LOUDOUN COUNTY Sheriff’s Office Capt. Tom Shaw studies gang activity in Loudoun County.
"Prior to 2002, there wasn’t much gang activity in the county," Shaw said. "We had one investigator, part time, investigating gangs."
In April 2003, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office received a tip from Fairfax County police. MS-13, an international gang, planned to hold a disciplinary meeting at Algonkian Regional Park on Easter Sunday.
Shaw said he watched 40 people gather at the local park. Gang members "kicked, stomped and beat" two men for 13 seconds.
"We identified a lot of people, took a lot of pictures and video, learned a lot," Shaw said. "It was a real good wake-up call, MS-13 wanted to make Loudoun County their meeting place."
Loudoun County is an attractive place for gang members to settle because of the job market, Wolf said.
"All of Fairfax County schools have gang members," Wolf said. In order to prevent Loudoun County students from joining gangs, Carver said it is important to provide them with alternative activities.
The Youth After School (YAS) Program provides Loudoun County students a place to go at the end of the school day for an affordable price of $20 a year.
"We have to make it more enticing than being out on the street," Carver said.
Wolf made his point clear, gangs do exist in Loudoun County. Now, the Sheriff’s Office is aware of the growing problem and has teamed up with other Northern Virginia law enforcement agencies to share gang-related information. By acknowledging the problem, Loudoun County parents can protect their children from gangs, Carver said.
"Everybody needs to solve this problem together. Get involved," he said.