Getting to the Roots

Getting to the Roots

When it comes to fighting gang activity, experts agree law enforcement can't do it alone.

Two years after the inception of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force in 2003, gang-related crime has started to decline.

With the success of tougher, more coordinated law enforcement, the task force plans to initiate a significant expansion of its prevention and intervention efforts, the group announced Monday at a progress report meeting.

This year, for the first time, the task force's federally-funded $2 million budget was dispersed evenly between enforcement efforts and prevention and intervention efforts.

"We need to get at the question of how to break the cycle of gang activity," said Robert Vilchez, a gang task force coordinator for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church. Vilchez, one of five intervention coordinators, anticipates resources for prevention will have more long-term benefits.

The task force will dedicate $625,000 to hire local nonprofit or faith-based organizations to provide community-based services to neighborhoods, youth and their families either at risk of gang activity or already involved in gangs. Of that sum, $225,000 will support activities in Fairfax County. Other counties in the task force will receive $100,000 each.

"These intervention efforts will provide the vehicle to help people who want to get out of the gangs," said Joseph Price, chief of police in Leesburg.

Price said the endeavor will be harder to measure and results may take longer to notice. "But even if two people are pulled out of gangs forever, where do you put the value on that?" said Price.

New Mayor Steve DeBenedittis is excited about the efforts taking root in Herndon, which was shook by gang violence in May 2004 when two gang members shot and killed 17-year-old Jose Sandoval.

"Gangs are recruiting at a young age, so we need to get in there and give them some positive alternatives," said DeBenedittis.

In October, the task force's participating jurisdictions will also hire intervention specialists to reach out to young people who may be vulnerable to gang membership or looking to get out.