|Parents discovered their 7-year-old child playing violent video game.
While discussing the game with their child, they learn one of his friends at school is recruiting him as a gang member.
When asked who should the parents contact, ministers, social workers, educators and law enforcement officers answered they would call the boy’s parents, law enforcement officers, educators and school resource officers.
The scenario was discussed during the first of a three-day 2010 Youth Gang Organized Crime Symposium. About 250 people from Tennessee attend the symposium sponsored by the Forensic Institute for Research and Education at MTSU.
Lt. Shawn Williams of Brownsville Police Department is past president of the National Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations and president of the Tennessee Gang Investigators Association who discussed ways to bridge intelligence gaps and respond to gang activity.
“Gang members are dangerous – no matter whether you are a law enforcement officer or a civilian service provider,” Williams said.
Williams outlined the anti-gang triangle to fight gangs in communities by:
• Intervention of social workers, community activists and educators,
• Prevention by parents, families and clergy, and
• Suppression law enforcement officers.
Williams, who’s worked on gang investigations since 1994, suggested law enforcement officers and civilians should talk to gang members to find out about their activities.
If a gang member talks to law enforcement about getting out of a gang, an officer should ask for the gang’s “Bible” of regulations and bandanas.
“They’ll turn it over if they really want out,” Williams said.
Gang members may be willing to talk to teachers and administrators because they feel close to a teacher or administrator.
Williams stressed the importance of sharing information about gangs.
Adults may research gang activity at MySpace and You Tube. Social workers and counselors have access to children and can learn about gang activities.
Through several scenarios, participants learned they can communicate between parents, law enforcement, social workers, pastors, educators and probation and parole officers to share information.
For example, a judge, prosecutor or youth services officer should pass on testimony about gangs in Juvenile Court to law enforcement officers for investigations.
Parents can talk with their children about gangs.
“In Murfreesboro, second-graders know more about gang activity than everyone in this room because they see it every day,” Williams said.
He talks with his 12-year-old daughter to learn about any gang activities in school.
By sharing information, Williams believes communities can more effectively tackle gang violence by saving children and youth, reclaiming neighborhoods and preventing children from joining gangs.
Citizens must spearhead the drive by reporting gang activity, testifying in court and maintaining they won’t tolerate gangs who sell illegal drugs, commit burglaries and kill people.
Residents may be afraid to report gang activity in their neighborhoods for fear of retaliation.
But Williams said citizens owe it to themselves and their children and grandchildren to get involved.
If people don’t talk, officers should keep knocking on doors until someone decides they are tired of being scared and want to talk.
When citizens call about gangs, law enforcement officers shouldn’t just take a report. They should talk to other citizens and gain information about gangs and members.
Police officers should spend time in gang neighborhoods by being role models and developing relationships with members. Officers should not tolerate any gang-related activities.
Parents can help by discouraging gang activity, keeping children occupied, developing good communications, spending time with their children, prohibiting gang dress, setting limits on Internet, TV and video time, preventing children from drawing gang symbols like six-point stars and pitchforks, supervising their free time and developing an anti-gang environment.
The media can help by not giving names of gangs or glamorizing gang signs and graffiti. They can share information with law enforcement.
Pastors and counselors can pass on information they obtain to police officers.
Williams said the best way to attack gangs from the home is to follow Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
Lisa Marchesoni may be reached at 869-0814 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.