Fairfax County continues to be one of the safest jurisdictions in the country, but that does not mean our area is free of gang activity. According to our Police Department’s 2018 annual report, 125 arrests were made that year in 247 gang-related cases.
Parents, family members and entire communities are the number one defense against a child becoming part of a gang or choosing to participate in gang-like activities.
Read on (and watch the video below) to learn more about gangs and how you can help keep our county safe.
A gang is a group of people who band together for a common purpose and are involved in criminal activity. Other traits of gang members include sharing one or more of the following: a group name; symbols, tattoos or graffiti; style of dress; frequently congregating upon, or laying claim to, a geographic location; and associating on a regular or continuous basis.
It should not be assumed that any ethnic group is more predisposed to membership in a criminal gang. Although some gangs limit participation to their own native ethnic grouping, in fact there is no major ethnic group within the county that is not represented in one of the major criminal street gangs.
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% of all gang members are girls and the number is growing.
There are several risk factors or conditions that increase the likelihood of a youth becoming involved with a gang.
- Lack of connection with family, community, schools, faith-based organizations.
- Lack of a positive support system at home.
- Lack of participation in alternative activities, such as community, school or faith-based youth programs.
- Low self-esteem and/or a sense of hopelessness about the future.
- Too much unsupervised free time.
- Alcohol or other drug use.
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 a gang.
- 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.
- Sign them up for positive group activities they enjoy, such as school clubs and teams and after-school sports.
- Plan family activities as simple as a meal, walk, or community center outing.
- Get to know their friends and those friends’ parents.
- Set and enforce limits.
- Make sure they understand that you are against gangs.
- Listen to their concerns.
- Teach them how to make good decisions.
We also have a gang prevention guide available in English and Spanish that can help you navigate difficult conversations when talking with your loved ones about gangs. The guide offers detailed information about gang activity, outlines myths versus facts and provides examples of situations you may face and how best to respond.
Fairfax County and other regional programs offer many ways to learn more about how to talk to youth, teach them how to make good decisions, and prevent them from joining gangs. These include:
- Fairfax County gang prevention website
- Fairfax County gang prevention hotline, 1-866-914-GANG (4264)
- Northern Virginia Family Service’s Intervention, Prevention and Education program, 571-748-2549
- Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, 703-GET-HELP (438-4357)
- Fairfax County Public Schools Student Safety and Wellness Office, 571-423-4270
- Fairfax County’s Three to Succeed