Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Loudoun County Gangs, Awareness and Intelligence

Yesterday's Loudoun County Gang Awareness seminar, put on by the Loudoun Sheriff's office and the Gang Intelligence Unit at the Dulles South Safety Center in South Riding, was a really great overview for the public on how to recognize and respond to gang activity in the neighborhood. Here's some nuggets and comments from the seminar.

(More information can be found at Loudoun's Gang Response Intervention Team Site)

- Relatively speaking, Loudoun County is in a reasonable position regarding dealing with the prominence and activities of gangs; our rates of gang-related criminal activity are much lower than all surrounding jurisdictions - one reason is the great "head start" our County got in addressing gang activity, through training partnerships with Fairfax County. Most violence in our county is "gang-to-gang", with the #1 crime in Loudoun being public graffitti, a.k.a. "newspapers of the street".

- Loudoun's Gang Intelligence Unit started in 1999 with one Part-time Investigator - it's grown now to 8 FT positions, along with regional and federal government partnerships and "virtual presence" through Student Resource Officers in the schools. Immigration (i.e. ICE) is especially collaborative with local law enforcement, immediately addressing and removing illegals associating in gang activity from the country.

- Street Gang participation (apparently noted as "domestic terrorism" by some Judges) is a Felony in Virginia, which isn't the case in DC, MD or West VA. Both the legislature, court systems and police groups have responded quickly and aggressively in identifying and implementing this degree of punishment; it seems to have really begun to help in the past 24 months, with gang activity down across all of Northern Virginia. The school systems in particular have "come a long way in the last 4-5 years", in recognizing and responding to gang activity.

- By far the single, largest common denominator with respect to Gang startup and participation (over 80% of members are under 18!) is lack of parental supervision at home - this is regardless of income level or social status.

- MS-13 (light blue colors) and 18th. St. (red colors) are 2 primary gangs with Loudoun representation; there's not an "overly-large" "Blood" representation, and not a lot of "all-girl" gangs at all.

- The majority of activity by the Gang Unit's "clientele" is so far clustered in areas of Sterling Park, Countryside and Ashburn, with South Riding (only at 4-5 actual "incidents" active cases logged so far in the 4 month-old county database system, out of about 100).

- Primary things the public can do include immediately notifying the Police or the Gang Intelligence Unit (1-866-NO-GANGS) of ANY gang-related, suspicious activity, including presence of new or updated graffitti. Also, parents need to be very cognizent of their child's activities and "representation" (i.e. clothing, accessories), that may indicate gang activity. In Virginia, there's "no expectation of privacy" for children in a home you own - so be sure to regularly inspect your house, and their rooms.

- Evidently there's been a "huge thing" occuring with respect to online Gang-related or indicative activity, leveraging Myspace in particular, centered around South Riding - be sure to absolutely monitor and control your child's Internet activities (for Internet Safety tips/techniques, see our Dadministrator Loudoun Internet Safety) blog.

All-in-all, a very good session with lively feedback.

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