Prevention: Take Action!
The key to prevention is taking action! Prevention is part of a formula to building healthy communication and reducing gang activity. Everyone and every community can work on solutions to minimize problems. Effective anti-gang efforts begin with partnerships among parents, schools, law enforcement, religious institutions, community organizations, businesses and youth. The key is that individuals and the community take action. The most important thing an individual, a group or an organization can do is get involved.
What Parents Can Do
Parents who suspect gang activity should take steps to intervene. Any concerned parent, teacher or community member can get involved in stemming gang membership. The following are some suggested steps:
- Increase your awareness of your child’s belongings, clothes and room. It is OK to look at what is in your child’s room.
- Know who your child’s friends are and where they “hang out,” especially after school.
- Meet the parent(s) of your children’s friends, know where they live and get a telephone contact number.
- Be willing to identify and address the dynamics within your family, as well as factors within the neighborhood and school, that could be contributing to your child’s gang involvement. This process is more difficult to do because you have to be candid and refuse to let denial affect your assessment.
- Talk with your child or teenager. Get answers to your questions about their behavior and discuss the consequences of being in a gang. At the same time let them know you love and care for them. Give them a sense that, together, you can work things out. Don’t be afraid to say, “I am sorry,” when appropriate.
- Talk with school officials and counselors. Understand what is required of your child at school. Know the homework and assignment schedules. Hold your children accountable for their school work.
- Ask teachers if they are aware of campus problems and if there are school programs that will help. Parents and concerned citizens can volunteer help with these programs. It is important for parents to get involved with your children in school and after-school activities.
- Let your child participate in band, school sports or after school clubs.
- Join the PTA and get involved at school, even if it is for one hour a week or a couple of hours a month. Participate in activities at school, if at all possible, because it shows your children that you care.
- Volunteer time at your child’s school whenever possible. Showing an interest and taking part of a child’s life in this manner can have a profound effect on a child’s future.
- Contact your local law enforcement agency or juvenile probation department. These agencies may have a crime prevention or gang specialist who can give you up-to-date information. Just as important, these agencies know about any current gang problems or areas where gangs have had an impact.
- Call your local community-based organizations. Many have experience with gang problems and can give you valuable guidance. For those communities that do not have one, think about forming one. Local Boys and Girls Clubs, churches and schools often act as a hub for such organizations.
- Go to your religious leaders for advice. These leaders may know of programs that help neighborhood children stay out of gangs. Many faiths today have special programs for young people.
- Report and document any graffiti in your neighborhood or on local school grounds. Then, remove the graffiti as soon as possible. Keep the photograph in a file with the date, time, location and who took the picture. Let the police know about the incident.
- Establish volunteer programs for young people. Let young people tutor other younger children. Let them volunteer at hospitals, youth and senior centers or animal shelters. These activities help young people develop a sense of community. When they have invested their time and effort in something, it will have value to them. These activities can also give the young person a sense of self worth, value and direction. These activities also make the participant feel needed.
What Communities Can Do
Parents, educators, law enforcement officers and other community members can do a great deal to prevent gang involvement or reduce existing gang problems. You do not have to act alone. Family and community members can join together to make a difference. They can help establish a community action committee with members from law enforcement, city government, schools, clergy, the district attorney and the probation department. The purpose of a committee can include awareness, education and inter-community cooperation in monitoring gang activity and in coordinating or developing intervention and prevention programs. To help prepare for this task you can:
- Call 911 immediately when there is an emergency in your neighborhood. Don’t be afraid to get involved.
- Contact your local law enforcement agency for up-to-date information on gang activity. Crime prevention or gang specialists can help your neighborhood plan ways to fight gang activity. They can also help you organize.
- Start a Neighborhood Watch Program in your neighborhood. This program helps counteract the gang’s use of fear to control a neighborhood. A united neighborhood is one of the most effective weapons to help curb the impact a gang can have.
- Initiate a graffiti abatement or clean-up program. Get rid of gang graffiti. Paint over it. A graffiti-free neighborhood signals to gang members that it is your neighborhood, not theirs!
- Know where your children are. Compile a parent telephone tree list. This effort will enable parents to contact other concerned parents. Parents need to talk with each other about where their children are and what they are doing. When gang incidents occur in your neighborhood, cooperate with the police or sheriff’s department. Your help may prevent others from becoming victims of gang violence. Any information about gang crimes, wanted suspects or violent gang activity should be reported to the police.
This report should be made even if your own son or daughter is involved. Reporting your own child is a tough decision and does not mean that you do not love your child or that you do not care. In fact, it demonstrates your desire to hold your child accountable, to force him to face the consequences of his action — which may be the very experience he needs to change. Making a difference in your community begins at home. Fighting crime and dealing directly with violent gang members are best left to experts trained to deal with those situations. Youth loitering after school or hanging out on corners provides a breeding ground for gangs.
Communities can offer young people alternatives to gang involvement. These include organized activities for children and teenagers through recreation departments, schools, churches and youth organizations. These programs should operate during the prime time that most juvenile crime is committed — after school, between the hours of 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM. Communities should seek support from local businesses and industries to help employ and train youths. Together, you and your community can:
- Conduct an accurate assessment of the level of gang problems both in the community and at schools. Share information among parents, community residents, school personnel and law enforcement, to improve your ability to develop strong positive programs that address your community and school needs.
- Ensure that youth have ample recreational activities and after school programs.
- Work with your school, law enforcement and religious and city officials to ensure that youth are provided with a safe and structured environment for social and recreational activities.
- Work with law enforcement to establish supervised, constructive late-night alternatives like night-time basketball games, competitive drill teams or dance programs.
- Encourage older youth to work with younger youth in recreational and other activities.
- Provide gang prevention education and training to parents, youth and others in the community.
- Provide services to youth, especially at-risk youth.
- Provide employment opportunities for youth.
- Establish a tattoo removal program.
What Schools Can Do
During the 1940’s the top discipline problems at school were noted as talking, chewing gum, making noise, running in the halls, wearing improper clothing and not putting paper in waste baskets. Today, student discipline problems and issues involve absenteeism, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy, gang violence, vandalism, suicide, rape, robbery, assault, bombings, abortion, AIDS, venereal disease, extortion and murder. School-age children are much more aware of social problems and more sophisticated than school-age children 60
Today’s schools face increasing challenges in making children feel safe at school so that they can concentrate on learning. Students must learn why certain behaviors may be dangerous to them. For example, why shouldn’t a student hang around known gang gathering locations? Why shouldn’t a student wear gang attire? The gangs on the street assume that someone is part of a gang if he or she is seen at known gang locations and/or dressed like a gang member. By being at a gang hangout or dressing like a gang member a student becomes a potential target for a rival gang. A student who is not a member of a gang should never claim gang membership or association. By doing so, the student becomes a target for a rival gang or the gang itself.
Normally, a gang punishes a person who claims membership when he or she is not really an accepted member. When gangs are attacking other gangs, there is never a check to find out if the victim is really a gang member or not. About 50 percent of the victims of deadly gang violence are not gang members. Schools and school districts are constantly burdened with the problem of finding answers to these complex gang and violence problems. Many schools implement a variety of prevention strategies that include graffiti removal teams, school safety policies banning gang attire and symbols on campus and gang resistance curricula. Parents and other community members can work with schools to develop strategies involving prevention, intervention and suppression.
These measures can include:
- Targeted prevention programs
- For students
- For parents
- Positive activities (such as the arts, sports and community services)
- Staff awareness of early indicators of gang membership
- Violence prevention curriculum
- Youth development (such as critical thinking, interpersonal and other skills)
- Utilize youth as a resource (i.e., in making decisions and developing polices)
- Build parent awareness Intervention
- Team approach (parents, school staff, community leaders, youth and law enforcement working together)
- Early identification of at-risk youth
- Referral and tracking system
- Student assistance service
- On campus suspension/expulsion
- Parent involvement/skill development
- Policies aimed at reducing gang activity
- Consistent enforcement of laws
- Prescriptive Re-entry Service Contracts for students suspended or expelled
These strategies can help you and schools:
- Develop a school and law enforcement partnership to promote a safe campus.
- Sponsor training on gang issues for parents and teachers.
- Start a volunteer parent participation program at school to assist in tutoring or lunch-hour monitoring.
- Use parents and volunteers to help monitor campuses and bus stops.
- Develop conflict prevention and resolution classes for students, parents and school personnel.
- Develop translation programs for non-English speaking parents.
- Start before- and after- school and weekend programs to give students a safe place for study, tutoring programs and social and recreational activities.
- Start drop-out prevention programs.
- Allow School Resource Officers to teach on campus.
- Develop a dress code for school and enforce it.
- Advise the students of the rules and consequences for violations.
- Ensure student safety and security in the restroom area.
- Have a mechanism in place where students and faculty can anonymously inform school officials if a dangerous weapon or bomb is on campus.
- Build cultural awareness and civic respect.
What Local Government Can Do
Local government can help in the formation of committees for the coordination and planning of prevention, intervention and suppression programs. Qualified members of government agencies can be selected to represent their agency. Normally, these committees should include: law enforcement agencies, prosecutors’ offices, the probation department, schools, community- based organizations, parks and recreation agencies, religious organizations, local businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, neighborhood watch groups, parent groups, student groups and the news media.
Intervention and prevention programs should be custom tailored to a community’s needs and resources. The input of concerned parents and community members can make a community-based collaborative successful. These committees should meet on a regular basis to exchange information, coordinate activities and plan a comprehensive community response. A suggested planning process includes the following steps:
- Identify the nature and location of the problem and contributing factors. The input of members of the community is needed. Community members are the eyes and ears for law enforcement. Sharing their knowledge of criminal activity can help with this assessment.
- Develop strategies to address the problem and reduce or eliminate the contributing factors. Your community may have a special need that other communities do not require. Community input can help define and customize a solution that will be the most beneficial to the youth in your community.
- Determine the resources necessary to implement the strategies. Locate available resources at the local, state and federal levels.
- Implement activities in coordination with other agencies. This is the key to make a community collaborative work in implementation. Your involvement is needed to make this happen.
- Evaluate the results of activities and revise strategies, as needed.
- Establish a telephone hotline for citizens to call in tips; emphasize that the appropriate agency will follow up even on anonymous tips.
One activity that the local anti-gang coordinating committee should maintain is a list of all the organizations and individuals in the community that are conducting anti-gang efforts and are in the position to assist these efforts, or are interested in assisting. This list can become a community resource for parents, teachers and concerned citizens. The anti-gang efforts of a community will gain momentum as more agencies and groups become involved in the committee. The effect from these efforts may take some time to be realized, so don’t get discouraged.
Intervention: Get Involved!
There is no single intervention program or strategy that can assist everyone who wants to leave a gang. The longer a person is a member of a gang, the more difficult it is for them to leave.
Difficult, but not impossible.
The key to leaving a gang is up to the member. First, he or she has to have the desire to leave. A gang member cannot be forced to leave his/her gang. Remember, for many members, the gang has become like a replacement family. Intervention programs can focus on a number of potential issues for those who want to leave a gang. Programs that have been successful have included a combination of goals that included tattoo removal, encouraging youths to obtain a high school diploma or GED, establishing employment opportunities, assuring that the youth cooperate with probation/parole and helping youth obtain a valid driver’s license. Many ex-gang members want to work, and education improves the ability to secure better paying jobs.
Often, gang members believe that once a young person joins a gang, the only way out is death. While this is not true, many gang members believe this myth. Some gang members feel that
they should “jump-out” of their gang. The jump-out ritual is similar to the jumping-in initiation, except that it can be more severe. Some gang members will choose this way of leaving a gang because they feel they still will have the respect of the gang after they leave.
Many gang members have simply walked away from the gang to take care of their children. Getting a job and being a responsible parent have been valid reasons for many members to leave
their gangs. Joining the armed forces can be a beneficial experience to some gang members because military life can provide the training and discipline needed to navigate through life. Military life can pay for continued education and assistance for veterans who want to purchase a home. The cost for these benefits is active military duty. For some male and female gang members this experience can provide a valuable opportunity to leave a gang. Having an arrest and conviction record can limit chances for employment and advancement, especially if the gang member
has felony convictions. Having a juvenile or adult record may impact entrance into the military or a public service job. There are legal remedies to seal a juvenile record or downgrade a
felony to a misdemeanor after successful completion of probation. This procedure is not valid for all felony crimes and cannot be used in every case.
For gang members who really want to leave the gang life, intervention programs can have a great deal of success. Successful intervention programs often include:
- Education – obtaining a GED or high school diploma
- Medical/dental/optical services
- Valid California driver’s license
- Intensive supervision (probation/parole)
Medical, dental and optical professionals sometimes donate their services to intervention programs. Graduating from high school may take getting prescription glasses so the student can read, or treating a tooth that needs a filling. Normally not noticeable, these problems can become major hurdles for a gang member. Sometimes gang members who are leaving a gang need assistance solving some of life’s simpler problems. For those who have a substance abuse problem, additional help may be needed. Having a GED or high school diploma can assist a gang member in getting a job. Being on probation or parole and following all conditions is necessary if these programs are to be completed successfully. Mental health contact may also be important. The length of gang membership may determine what type of experiences the person has gone through. Some gang members suffer from Post Traumatic Stress due to witnessing events that traumatized them.
A counselor who specializes in these issues may help keep the gang member on track. Finally, tattoo removal is important because the removal is not only symbolic of leaving the gang, but also allows the person to stop advertising his or her gang affiliation. Removing the tattoo greatly decreases the chance of rival gang contact, increasing the safety of the ex-gang member and those around him or her. Intervention programs may take some time to complete and require a considerable amount of effort. Gang members who enter these programs should be made aware of these challenges. A program person should be assigned to each case to aid in and monitor the process. Typical out-of-custody intervention programs cost less than half the cost of incarceration. These programs treat the entire family and help it to become selfsufficient. Special consideration should be given to females in intervention programs. Females, in general, may have unique health problems.
In addition, some female gang members are mothers of infants or small children. Being a single parent could present special issues for program design and implementation.
Many view gangs as an inner city problem, or as law enforcement’s responsibility. With the spread of gangs and increasing gang-related violence, we can no longer afford to deny their presence and hope for the best. Joining or belonging to a gang not only subjects the member’s family, friends and neighbors to potential crime and violence, it also can deprive young people of their potential by inhibiting their education and squelching their employment opportunities. All of us — parents, youth, clergy, businesses, educators, law enforcement and local government — can work together to steer youth away from gangs and to help those already involved to leave a gang. Together we can give at-risk youth our time, attention and alternatives to gang life.