The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recently received a report on gang prevention that outlined recommendations and accomplishments regarding the county's efforts to combat gang activity.
The report, which draws on suggestions made at a conference on gangs earlier this year, was put together by the county Coordinating Council on Gang Prevention and the Gang Prevention Steering Committee.
"We have been able to make significant strides," said Bob Bermingham, Fairfax County gang prevention coordinator, in a statement. "By drawing on the extensive network of Fairfax County services and reaching out to the community and businesses, we have built a solid base for a comprehensive effort to attack the gang issue on all fronts -- which is what it will take."
Here are highlights from the report:
Fairfax County has long been one of the safest jurisdictions in the country. One of the few clouds on that bright horizon is the rise of gang activity in the region. Gangs and their activities challenge the county's fundamental mission to keep every neighborhood and community safe. The problem of gangs must be combated and the county's children prevented from undertaking this destructive and dangerous lifestyle.
Although gangs pose a significant threat to public safety, this is actually a community issue that should be addressed through cross-agency, community-wide initiatives that strengthen and improve collaboration on county, school, private, faith-based and community-based gang prevention, intervention and suppression strategies.
* Six youths have been hired by the Department of Community and Recreation Services as summer employees to focus on community outreach and program evaluation at the James Lee Community Center in Falls Church and the Area II Human Services office. In addition, they will work with staff to develop strategies to increase the number of at-risk youth in summer programs.
* The Northern Virginia Gang Task Force intervention and prevention committee has authorized and funded a regional assessment of gang activity, which will include Fairfax County.
* As there is no standard national definition of what a gang is or who constitutes a gang member, the definition currently used by the Fairfax County Police Department has been adopted to avoid confusion and develop consistency. That definition:
"A gang is a group of people who form an allegiance for a common purpose, who engage in criminal activity and conform to one or more of the following traits: share a common group name; share common symbols, tattoos or graffiti; share [a] common style of dress; frequently congregate upon, or lay claim to, a geographic location; and associate on a regular or continuous basis."
* The Fairfax County public schools, in association with the police department, will institute a new healthy choices program for middle school children aimed in part at gang prevention. The schools have significantly increased the availability and quality of after-school opportunities. Twenty-four of the 25 middle schools offer at least three days of activities weekly to an average 226 students a school.
* County employees, primarily the police department, routinely make gang prevention presentations. In order to assist the police department and ensure that a common message is being delivered by many voices, a speakers bureau will be developed under the direction of the Office of Public Affairs and the gang prevention coordinator. Residents want to participate in the gang prevention effort and need to be educated further about gangs and how to become more involved in prevention.
* County staff members are working with Cox Communications and representatives from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington to identify sites and partners for future Boys & Girls Clubs in Fairfax County.
* The county should publicize the importance and opportunity for businesses, the faith-based community, civic organizations and others to become involved in the prevention of gangs. Officials should implement quarterly meetings with the Coordinating Council on Gang Prevention and nonprofit organizations such as the Partnership for Youth to address gang issues.
* The county should identify agency staff members who will serve as the gang resource person and the contact person for their agency.
* Officials should develop a set of best practices for meeting the safety needs of individuals getting out of gangs or testifying in gang-related cases.
* The need exists for more outreach workers who are multilingual and multicultural, knowledgeable about resources and able to connect with families. The county must develop a master inventory of services, so that youth service providers and parents can easily identify and access services relevant to gangs.
* Families need additional resources to assist them in recognizing when their child needs help, and assistance with accessing services for gang-involved children as well as children at risk. Juvenile Probation and Adult Probation have partnered with the police in special gang suppression operations in high gang-activity areas. Juvenile and adult probation officers have used the services of the police department to perform house visits and educate parents about how to identify signals of their child's possible gang involvement. Juvenile Probation established a gang liaison position within the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
To view the report, and for more information on the Fairfax County Coordinating Council on Gang Prevention and the Gang Prevention Summit, visit www.fairfaxcounty.gov/gangprevention.