Commentary: Preventing Gang Violence

Commentary: Preventing Gang Violence

Families throughout our community have been shaken by the recent rise in gang activity across the Washington region. This is a serious issue that must be addressed with collaboration and cooperation from all levels of government. We know the problem, and now we must find the right solution.

Fairfax County offers a model for what our country can do to fight gang violence. When I was chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, we worked with local law enforcement, the business community, and the faith and civic communities to reduce gang crime and gang association. We hired the county’s first gang prevention coordinator and started tattoo and graffiti removal initiatives. We collaborated with the Boys and Girls Clubs to launch the “Join a Club, Not a Gang” campaign, and expanded after school programs to all 26 of our middle schools. And we reached out to parents to help them understand the signs of gang involvement. Thanks to this collaboration, the number of teenagers involved in gang activity declined by 50 percent and the crime rate fell to a 32-year low. Fairfax County remains the safest jurisdiction of its size in the United States.

I brought that local government experience with me to Congress and on a bipartisan basis, I worked with former U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf to secure federal funding for the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force (NVRGTF). In fact, I offered the last earmark for the NVRGTF before the House Majority abolished earmarks, stripping the task force of its federal funding.

The best thing we can do is resume funding for regional task forces that focus on gang prevention, intervention, and suppression in our communities. It is not enough to fund programs and organizations that focus solely on prosecuting gang members after their crimes have been committed. We must take a well-rounded, holistic approach to community safety by restoring the federal government’s commitment to preventing these crimes from ever being committed in the first place.

We know that collaborative programs like the Task Force work. Regional task forces provide local governments and law enforcement bodies with unified organizations that span jurisdictional boundaries and allow for streamlined input from various stakeholders across a community. That is why, recently, I introduced the Preventing Gang Violence Act, legislation that will increase funding for competitive and evidence-based programs to reduce gang violence by $18 million.

This bipartisan legislation builds upon our success in Fairfax County by providing community-based violence prevention grants to effective regional task forces across the country. Grant applications would be evaluated based on a number of factors, including an applicant’s record of implementing best practices in gang violence prevention, evidence of collaboration between relevant stakeholders, an effective grant implementation plan, and plans for evaluating results.

In addition to its bipartisan support in Congress, this proposal has the support of a diverse set of expert organizations, including the National Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations (NAGIA) and the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ). As NAGIA notes, this legislation “recognizes that communities must be equipped with prevention programs to keep their children from joining gangs.” And CJJ makes clear that the bill brings a “community-based approach to bear on our nation’s gang violence problem.”

Some, most notably the President, would have you think America must shut its borders. That you cannot allow immigrants into our country and maintain security. We know this is a false choice, and runs contrary to the American and Fairfax experience. I’ve rejected the ant-immigrant proposals pushed by the Administration, including its unconstitutional travel ban. Our immigrant communities contribute so much to the fabric of life in Northern Virginia. We shouldn’t drive them into the shadows.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Fairfax County has made progress, but we need the Federal Government to remain a partner. The Gang Violence Prevention Act is a down payment on making our communities safer.