Gang activity has been rising across the Washington, D.C., region lately. There have been at least five gang-related homicides since last fall, according to our Police Department. These murders are the primary focus for the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, as well as our Police Department, which has a gang investigations unit that examines all gang-associated crime.
It’s important to note that according to police, gangs are actively and successfully recruiting new members, especially in middle school.
Chief states “We will not tolerate any crime in Fairfax County, especially gang-related crimes… this is a multi-agency effort.” pic.twitter.com/8kAFwTPQlS
— Fairfax Co. Police (@fairfaxpolice) March 3, 2017
“Gang activity in Fairfax County isn’t just a law enforcement issue,” says Ed Ryan, our gang prevention coordinator. “It’s an issue that anyone who lives and works in the county should feel obligated to do their part to try and address. That could be reporting suspicious activity or alerting the authorities if you see graffiti. That also means parents incorporating the topic into talks with their children so kids are prepared and aware that negative influences like gangs exist, the same way drugs, weapons and bullies do.”
There are a variety of resources available to contact about gang prevention and involvement:
- To report suspected gang activity in Fairfax County call 703-691-2131, TTY 711, or in an emergency call/text 911.
- To report information regarding gang-related crime to the Northern Virginia Gang Task Force call 1-866-NO-GANGS (1-866-664-2647).
- If you or someone needs help, call 703-GET-HELP (703-438-4357), the Northern Virginia Gang Task Force resource information line.
Gang members generally range in age from 13 to 24, but can be as young as 9. Gangs can include all ethnic groups. Many gang members are boys, but 10 percent of all gang members are girls and the number is growing.
Among the leading reasons given by kids involved with gangs, either as members or gang associates, is a desire to be loved, accepted or to be part of a group. That is what gang members commonly promise when they are recruiting.
Additional reasons that kids join gangs include:
- Fun and excitement — Gang members, recruiters and the media glamorize the gang lifestyle.
- Identity and a sense of belonging — Gangs may offer a sense of identity to their members and a way to gain attention or status. Kids who do not have strong ties to their families, communities, schools or places of worship may turn to gangs for companionship and as a substitute family.
- Peer pressure — If friends or family members are in a gang, kids may be pressured to join.
- Financial gain — Being in a gang is often seen as a way to obtain money or possessions.
- Failure to realize what being in a gang means — Kids often do not fully understand the danger, risks and legal problems associated with being in a gang.
- Protection — In neighborhoods and areas where gangs are present, kids sometimes feel, or are told, that belonging to a gang will provide protection from other gangs.
There are a number of signs that may indicate involvement with a gang or risky or delinquent behavior. The sooner concerns are responded to, the greater the opportunity to prevent a child from joining a gang. Discuss concerns with a trusted friend or a professional such as a school counselor, police officer, member of the clergy or human services professionals in the community.
Keep in mind, kids who pretend to be gang members or just associate with gang members are at equal or greater risk for being victims of violence as are those who are known gang members.
Signs to be aware of include:
- Withdrawing from family activities.
- Suddenly changing friends and spending time with undesirable people.
- Social media posts with signs of teens falling prey to gang recruitment.
- Developing a bad attitude toward family, school and authorities.
- Sudden drop in school grades.
- Staying out later than usual.
- Wanting excessive privacy.
- Using a new nickname.
- Using hand signs.
- Using unfamiliar slang words.
- Purchasing or wanting to buy or wear clothing of all one color or style.
- Modifying clothing to indicate membership in a special group.
- Changing appearance with special haircuts, eyebrow markings or tattoos.
- Suddenly having more money or possessions.
- Using gang graffiti on folders, desks, walls and buildings.
- Drug or alcohol use evidence.
- Carrying objects that can be used as weapons.
Our police school resource officers watch for signs of gang activity and gang recruitment in our schools, and we need everyone’s support to keep this dangerous problem at bay: parents/guardians, police, schools, health and human services providers, the court system and others.