The Safe Communities Task Force is a grass roots coalition started in 2008 to eradicate gangs in Clark County. It draws support of local law enforcement, the juvenile courts, schools and other youth programs to focus on gang prevention.
According to the task force, middle school is a crucial time for gang recruitment. Boys ages 12 to 14 are the most likely to consider joining a gang. There are, however, a significant number of girls who join gangs. A 2010 Healthy Youth Survey discovered that of 601 Clark County students who reported being involved with a gang 38 percent of those were girls.The most at risk youth are those who have difficulties in school and struggle with learning. While lack of parental supervision, lack of family structure, use of alcohol or drugs can be factors in how likely a child is to join a gang, early intervention and community education can help combat gang membership.
Safe Communities Task Force Coordinator Joe Walsh appeared before city council on Mar. 5 with Vancouver Police Commander George Delgado and educator Erica Nicewonger to alert the council — and the community — that last year 599 gang related crimes were reported by the Vancouver Police Department. This was an increase of about 35% from 2010. Walsh said that of those gang offences 173 involved weapons, a whopping “71% increase from the previous year.”
Erica Nicewonger said before she started working with the youth in the community, she “really had no idea what was happening here in Vancouver.” To solve the problem Nicewonger says it “really comes down to some simple fixes.” Relationships and support from the community “can really impact these kids in positive ways.”
Commander Delgado reports the gang problem has been accelarated by the bad economy. Financial hardships continue to strain families and he supports the task force because it partners with law enforcement to “better serve the family and impact the kids in the schools and in the communities when they’re out of school.”
Delgado also told city council that the Vancouver Police Department communicates with Portland on a daily basis about the problem of gangs. If a shooting occurs in Portland “the facts are communicated right away to the detectives out here. We in turn communicate with our probabion staff and those stakeholders in the Safe Communities Task force.” Delgado says that while Portland has more shootings than Vancouver, Vancouver serves as the “bedroom for the players in Portland.” He sees a lot of Portland dectectives in Clark County when they’re chasing leads down. “That’s when we often partner with them, when we go hunt down the suspects that did the crimes in Portland.”
The Safe Communities Task Force holds regular workshops to reduce the likelihood of the growth of gangs in the county. Parents have the greatest opportunity to influence their children’s choices. Learning about what to watch for and gaining education on what can be done are important steps to combat youth crime. According to the task force negative behavioral changes to watch for include:
- Withdrawing from family and family activities
- Increased truancy or school discipline
- Declining school performance
- Staying out late without reason
- Unusual desire for secrecy
- Confrontational behavior including disrespect for parental and school authority
- Sudden negative attitudes toward police
- Changes in attitude about usual activities including school, church, or sports
Monthly meetings on gangs, and drug and alcohol problems
Safe Communities Task Force meetings share information about upcoming programs and events, discuss latest trends in local youth gangs, and foster connections among youth-serving groups.
Monthly meetings are held the second Friday of each month from 10:00 am to noon at the Department of Fish and Wildlife office located at 2108 Grand Blvd.
The Get on Board! workshops are free and cover topics such as gangs, drug use, child exploitation, bullying, and communicating teenagers.
Thursday, March 22, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Identifying Gang Involvement and Identifying Drug & Alcohol Problems
Bates Center, 2921 Falk Rd., Vancouver