- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 10, 2002

The Fairfax County [Va.] Police Department's gang unit is using a "multipronged approach" to tackle the county's growing gang problem.
It has developed programs to eliminate graffiti and transition members out of their gangs and has started an initiative aimed at educating and influencing young children before they reach an age where they may consider joining a gang.
"There is no one panacea," said Fairfax County police spokeswoman Lt. Amy Lubas. "It involves approaching it from different angles."
Fairfax police see education and collaboration with social services and schools as two additional facets of eradicating gangs. Regular enforcement and prosecution are also essential, they say.
Police methods have changed, Lt. Lubas said, because police can no longer wait for crime to happen.
"Crime prevention is modern law enforcement," she said. "We try to be farsighted to assess the future crime trends and try to address them before they become endemic."
The gang unit is composed of eight full-time detectives and two specialized supervisors.
In addition, detectives work with the 46 school resource officers, who work in the county's public middle and high schools. The unit also works with the 14 Fairfax County crime-prevention officers.
The detectives also meet regularly with police from Montgomery County, Prince George's County, the District and federal law enforcement agencies to share information and plot strategies.
This is all in response to a steady rise in gang activity in Fairfax County in recent years. There are about 20 to 30 gangs in the county, with about 2,000 members, according to Capt. Sharon Smith, commander of the Youth Services Division.
In July, The Washington Times reported that an international gang sent members from California to its group in Fairfax County to increase its criminal presence and kill a police officer. On July 31, there were 16 arrests in nearby Leesburg, Va., when a large group of people believed to be gang members attacked a man with a machete.
Last month, four members of the same gang were charged by Prince William County police with felony recruitment after a 17-year-old girl said they forced her to have sexual relations with them in order to join the gang.
Gangs lure members with promises of power, money and sex, but the way gangs operate is changing, Capt. Smith said.
Gang members do not necessarily congregate on street corners, show gang colors and exhibit tattoos "because they know people will pick up on it," she said.
Tattoos are a member's way of identifying with a gang.
One of Fairfax County's main anti-gang programs is the Skin Deep Tattoo Removal Program.
It is an 18-month-long intensive program designed to help only "those who really want to get out of the gang subculture," Capt. Smith said. Gang members must show a real desire to leave their gangs and must perform community service and undergo counseling.
Upon completion of the program, doctors who have donated their services will remove the gang member's tattoos.
One of the gang unit's other main goals is to eliminate the gang "newspaper," as detectives call it. The Graffiti Abatement Program aims to get rid of graffiti, Capt. Smith said.
Gangs use graffiti to communicate with one another and with rival gangs, and it is often the vehicle that causes gang conflicts to escalate.
To prevent youth from joining gangs, detectives are testing the Gang Resistance Education and Training Program, which targets middle schoolers. The program will teach children to set goals for themselves, resist pressures, resolve conflicts without violence and "understand how gangs and youth violence impact the quality of their own lives," Capt. Smith said.


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