Gang activity on Oahu must be recognized and reduced
Youth gang crimes on Oahu have increased significantly during the past decade.
Youth gang activity on Oahu has increased in recent years, but police monitoring of the resurgence and a partnership of police, social workers and school officials formed to respond to the troubling pattern have been abandoned. A greater cognizance of gang-related crime and effort to reduce it are needed to put youngsters on the right track.
During the 1995-96 school year, the Department of Education found that 3,086 incidents of violence involved 1,720 students. While enrollment decreased, violent cases rose in the 2005-06 school year to 3,350, involving 2,762 students.
"We have kind of taken our eye off the ball," University of Hawaii criminologist Meda Chesney-Lind told the Star-Bulletin's Alexandre Da Silva. "Even with those specific incidents, we are not seeing the mobilization that you should see."
In the 1990s, Honolulu police had a system of tracking information such as names, ages, ethnicity and even tattoo patterns of gang members, but replacement software installed in 2000 lacked the information. The Hawaii Youth Gang Response System, formed in 1991 as a partnership of police, social workers and schools to flag and support at-risk students, urged officials two years ago to expand and review prevention efforts and gather more reliable data, but the response system itself was disbanded in the summer of 2006.
Most states have followed a hard-line approach pioneered in the 1990s by Los Angeles, prohibiting gatherings of two or more people suspected of being gang members, deploying broad sweeps of suspects and lengthening prison sentences for gang-related crimes. Increasingly, law enforcement officials suggest that such tactics might worsen the problem; gang membership has doubled in Los Angeles County in the past decade.
Earl C. Paysinger, an assistant Los Angeles police chief, said the department now focuses more on prevention and intervention before making arrests. Police visit homes of possible gang members more often to encourage parents to become involved.
In northern Virginia a task force has televised public service announcements in which mothers tell of their sons going to jail for gang activity. "Always be near them and guide them always so that all goes well," one of the mothers says in Spanish.
Gang activity in the region has gone down by one-third since the ads began running last year. "From all we can tell, even though these guys are hardened, they really respond to their mothers," Leesburg, Va., Police Chief Joseph R. Price told the Washington Post.
Despite that success, no single tactic might produce such results. The Hawaii task force that kept officials' eyes on the ball should be resurrected to develop a strategy to combat youth gang activity, and educators and police should heed its recommendations.