- The Washington Times - Friday, February 25, 2005

A summit on gang violence yesterday in Fairfax County brought together a former gang member and police officers who agreed that prevention is the key to solving the problem.

“You have to tell young people the truth” about gang life, said Juan Pacheco, 28, a Kids Club manager for the gang prevention group Barrios Unidos. “They join because they have a need of love, respect and understanding.”

Mr. Pacheco belonged to a gang in Fairfax County, but after going to prison he now works for the youth group he credits with turning around his life.

Fairfax Police Chief David Rohrer said better police efforts alone will not solve the problem.

“Arrest and suppression are not our desire,” he said. “We want young people to have the tools to be resilient.”

The county estimates there are 80 gangs with as many as 2,000 members within its borders.

Last year, the county had 504 incidents of gang-related crime, compared with 481 incidents in 2003.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly was cautious but optimistic about the problem.

“The gang situation in Fairfax is certainly not out of control, and we want to make sure it doesn’t get that way,” he said.

The county will use after-school programs in its gang strategy to follow a Justice Department model presented at the summit.

Cox Communications gave the county $3 million to address the problem. A third of the money will be used for more Boys and Girls Clubs in the county, which has just one. The other $2 million will pay cost associated with public service announcements about gang problems.

Cox Vice President Gary McCollum said he grew up in a Richmond housing project and would not be where he is today without the influence of a local Boys and Girls Club.

Fairfax County has received additional money from Congress to support its anti-gang efforts. Yesterday’s summit brought together teachers, police, social workers and youth group leaders to coordinate resources and make suggested adjustments to the comprehensive Justice Department model.

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