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Conference, Conviction Part of Regional Response to Gangs

At the conference, Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey urged school officials to call him as soon as problems emerge.
At the conference, Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey urged school officials to call him as soon as problems emerge. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

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Frank Friedland, a Baltimore County school security officer, said evidence of rising gang activity there was sprayed all over school walls. "We're seeing graffiti in the back of the schools," Friedland said. "It's increased quite a bit in the past two years. It's a growing problem, without a doubt."

Experts said signs of emerging trouble could be found in such graffiti, or in the doodles of a notebook, or in subtle variations of colors, numbers or initials found on student caps and sports jerseys.

Graffiti tags from one gang, when slashed by a rival, can indicate an imminent turf battle, said Norris and Prince George's police Cpl. Michael S. Rudinski, who patrols Northwestern High School.

In student notebooks, they said, scribblings or illustrations often reveal gang affiliations. And synchronized wardrobes can publicly identify gang members or associates. The experts displayed jerseys, bandannas, baseball caps and other paraphernalia confiscated from gang members. There were, for instance, jerseys with the number 13, signifying the gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.

Rudinski used a visual projector to show security measures taken at the school on Adelphi Road. He said truants and gang members or associates frequently seek to converge on the campus in the afternoon when students are dismissed -- a time of heightened security alert.

He also advised educators to learn the language of gangs -- including hand signals and graffiti memos in bathrooms -- to pick up intelligence that may help avert violence. For instance, Rudinski said he asks students "who they roll with" or "who they beef with" to demonstrate his gang-lingo fluency.

The experts also said custodians can be valuable tipsters because they are more likely to have the trust of gang-associated students than a vice principal, teacher or security officer. They suggested giving custodians digital cameras to gather information.

One audience member lauded the conference for addressing the gang problem head-on. "It's here. It's real. We've got to do something about it," said Robert Foster, a Prince George's school investigator.

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