Gangs kept from schools, police official says

Gang members are present in local schools, according to law enforcement, but that doesn’t mean gang activity is allowed within school walls.

Students are not allowed to wear gang colors or emblems and are forbidden from flashing gang signs.

If a student draws a gang moniker on a book, desk or art project, school officials “track that pretty fast,” said Chad Williams, a gang intelligence specialist with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department. Any signs a student may be involved in a gang result in administrators or law enforcement officers talking with the child about the realities of gang life.

“I try to intervene and try to prevent kids from becoming full-fledged members of the gang,” Williams said.

Gang membership and presence has increased in recent years around the Grand Valley, according to Williams. With young members a common sight, it’s inevitable some members are attending schools. Luckily, Williams said, zero tolerance for gang paraphernalia and the rarity of gang fights occurring on school property mean gang activity in schools is “nothing like an epidemic here.”

“We don’t really see the violence translate into the schools too much,” he said.

All school resource officers are trained in what to look for to identify gang members, but profiling isn’t as easy as following Hollywood stereotypes.

“It’s not like it used to be. You could spot who was in a gang from a mile away. Now music and clothing styles are the same as for kids who aren’t in gangs,” Williams said.

Because gang life can be a family affair, Williams said gang influence surrounds even elementary school-age children.

Craig Mansanares, a Longmont gang task force member who recently spoke at a safe schools conference in Grand Junction, said gang influence is present at pretty much every level of school.

Mansanares recommended that schools, parents and law enforcement agree to a plan to get kids through school without joining or continuing to associate with a gang and remain consistent with punishment for abandoning that plan. Mansanares said he helped schools in his area take this approach, and the schools experienced a 64 percent decrease in gang-related behavior.

Even if parents aren’t cooperative, Mansanares said it helps for students to have teachers and staff that make them feel welcome at school. When home is where the gang lifestyle lives, Williams said, some students find school a respite.

“They’re not allowed to perpetrate that lifestyle in schools, so a lot of times they’ll act one way in school and another way at home,” Williams said. “They’re really good kids, but when they go home they’re expected to act a certain way. Sometimes being at school is their way to be normal for a while.”


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