- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2004

At a recent D.C. Council hearing, lawmaker Adrian Fenty criticized school officials because they did not have a plan of action for battling gangs. Parents echoed those sentiments following a shooting inside a high school that stemmed from gang disputes. Indeed, Metropolitan Police, the FBI and the faith-based community all have stepped up their involvement with violent and at-risk youths since that Feb. 2 shooting which left one student dead. Their efforts are encouraging, especially since it appears that school officials do not have the solution to preventing the burgeoning violence in and around schools.

D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) uses uniformed and undercover officers at large school events, such as championship games, contracts private security services and uses electronic surveillance and metal detectors on a day-to-day basis. DCPS even has its own Youth Gang Task Force, which tries to mediate disputes between gangs and ensure that the violence does not spill onto school property. A few years ago, school and police officials lauded the task force for the decline in school-related violence.

But after fatal school shootings and other violence this school year, as well as an unabating string of arsons on school property, the question becomes this: Has the task force lost its effectiveness?

Two neighborhood gangs involved in the Feb. 2 shooting — Condon Terrace and Barry Farms — have been active and violent since the task force was created in 1995. In other words, the students and families who live there are no strangers to task force members.

We had hoped to be able to say today that the DCPS Youth Gang Task Force is an effective crimefighting tool. But school authorities have refused to speak with us despite repeated calls — to school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, board member William Lockridge and board spokeswoman Denise Reed — since the Feb. 2 fatal shooting at Ballou High School in Southeast Washington.

To be sure, one reason such task forces are effective is that gang members and other youths are told that task force members do not “snitch” — and that is a practical and effective policy in many cases. But when students shoot other students inside schools (Ballou) and students are shot while merely walking to the bus stop (Anacostia), or — as we learned this week — are smart enough to try to ditch their weapons before entering the schoolhouse (Wilson), then school authorities deserve all the criticism they get from frustrated lawmakers and grief-stricken parents.

The task at hand is to stop teens from killing teens, and we urge lawmakers to press that in a deadly serious way to ensure school safety.

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