Northern Virginians are rightly concerned about gangs in their communities. Solving this problem requires rigorous law enforcement, but it also requires early and ongoing efforts to divert youngsters from gang activities.
To be proactive, last year Fairfax County formed a task force to work with police, community leaders and school officials to prevent gang-related activities. To start, Fairfax County Public Schools allocated $1 million last year to develop and offer after-school programs for middle school students. This year, Fairfax County is committing additional resources to support those programs. In addition, law enforcement agencies began, and have continued, to vigorously deal with gang-related crimes.
But as the FBI and police will readily acknowledge, law enforcement is only half the picture; we must continue our equally aggressive strategy of crime prevention. That means devoting sufficient brainpower, energy and resources to the various social service programs aimed at diverting children from gangs by providing them with better alternatives.
Fairfax County's after-school programs, for example, are designed to keep children safe in the afternoons, under the watchful eye of adult professionals. That's the time of day children are most likely to be the victims or perpetrators of crime, so keeping our kids on the straight and narrow -- while helping them with their homework and exposing them to a variety of positive and constructive activities -- is a top priority for Fairfax County schools and the Fairfax County government.
Virginians properly recognize the need to keep our kids safe and crime-free. That's one reason why 72 percent of Virginia voters told pollsters for the Richmond-based Kids Deserve Better after-school awareness project that they think after-school programs are essential to their communities, and why 87 percent say that issues of children's well-being, including after-school programs, are important to them.
It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking about gang problems only in terms of law enforcement, and sometimes our political dialogue encourages such one-track analysis by focusing almost entirely on locking up offenders. But Virginians have a broader view and continue to have conversations on topics including how to steer kids away from crime in the first place.
Though there have been few gang-related incidents in Fairfax schools, the problem of gang violence is increasing in the Washington area. County School Superintendent Jack D. Dale explains what the school system is doing to keep students out of gangs.