- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2003

Officials in the Washington metropolitan area are promising to step up police efforts to prevent gang violence from becoming a problem in the schools after a summer of increased gang activity.

Much of the effort has been spurred by parents alarmed by the appearance of graffiti featuring gang symbols or colors in their neighborhoods. Many have expressed concern that the start of classes could leave their children vulnerable to gang violence, even if they are not involved directly with the groups.

“The school is the only place you can guarantee that you are going to see somebody you are looking for,” said D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat.

D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Paul L. Vance said he believes middle and junior high schools are fertile recruiting grounds for gang members, so he formed a task force to keep that from happening.

“It’s a frightening prospect, but we follow the pattern of the growth of crews and the posses in cities across America,” Mr. Vance said.

In addition to senior security staffers from D.C. public schools, officers from the police Youth Violence Unit and representatives from the youth-intervention program of the D.C. Parks and Recreation Department are focused on the issue.

Across the Potomac River in Virginia, officials with Arlington public schools are using a similar approach. While Superintendent Robert G. Smith relies on the county’s police department to monitor gang activity, school resource officers are assigned to each of the county’s high schools.

School staff and community leaders in Arlington also are working to provide alternatives for children most susceptible to gang recruiting efforts.

“Students who get involved in school life have that as their outlets and not these gangs,” Mr. Smith said.

Much of the focus is on strengthening relationships with average students who are less likely to have as much contact with coaches, teachers and other adults as athletes or academic standouts.

In Fairfax County, nine detectives assigned to the gang task force are working closely with police officers who spend most of their time in the schools.

The Fairfax police gang unit is sharing information with police in Loudoun and Prince William counties as well as the cities of Herndon, Leesburg, Manassas and Manassas Park.

Although the problem has not received as much attention in the Maryland suburbs, police also have been sharing information on gangs with school officials.

Montgomery County police touched on the issue during meetings with school administrators in July, a police spokeswoman said.

School resource officers assigned to high school campuses in Prince George’s County also are watching for signs of gang activity, police say.

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