Connecticut has seen a resurgence in gang activity and youth violence over the past few years, but it hasn’t risen to the level it was at in the 1990s, a top federal prosecutor said Friday. In order to guarantee it stays that way law enforcement officials, school teachers, and community organizations attended the first ever Gang Prevention Summit at the Connecticut Convention Center Friday.
In his lunchtime address U.S. Attorney Kevin O’Connor said one of the trends law enforcement has seen concerning gangs includes recruitment of younger children. He said it has also seen gang activity spread from inner cities to smaller towns. Towns like East Hartford and Manchester, just outside of Hartford, have seen substantial increases in gang activity. But police in those areas hesitate to call the loosely affiliated group of kids wearing a certain combination of colors or sports logos gangsters and prosecutors like O’Connor have found it hard to prosecute these types of loosely organized gangs under racketeering laws.But O’Connor predicted that in the coming months there would be an increase in gang related prosecutions.Throughout the day several panels of both national and local officials talked about how to spot a gang member, how to prevent children from joining a gang, what a school can do if it suspects gang activity, and intervention programs to keep rehabilitated gangbangers from going back to gangs. There was a discussion on how to address gang activity in schools. The panel included a Drug Enforcement Administration official who shared a story about how her agency learned of drug dealing in a middle school in affluent Fairfield County. The DEA went to the local police and offered to set up an undercover operation in the school with a young looking new agent, but the police weren’t interested, Agent Eileen Dinnan said. So it ended.U.S. Attorney James Glasser said because the federal government does not have juvenile detention centers the federal agencies and local law enforcement have to work together. In this case the local police would have had to make the arrest. He said he remembered an undercover operation in Westport at a high school where an agent was sent in undercover to befriend some drug dealers. He said the agent and the group of kids were playing Sony Playstation at a home as numerous people came to the door to purchase drugs, while the parents were right upstairs. One woman stood up to ask the panel why these schools in these affluent communities are protected when Hartford youth live with a stereotype that this type of activity exists happens only in their neighborhoods. “So many other schools are protected,” she said. This type of activity is everywhere and until the state realizes it, “we’re not going to be able to get a gripe on this,” she added as the room of more than 200 applauded. Reverend Mel Jackson from Marion County, Indiana said “we do not do enough collectively to strengthen the family.” He said he is a firm believer that the greatest prevention to guns, drugs, and gangs is in the home. He said if the child doesn’t listen, you need to make them listen by whatever means you have. “I will risk going to jail because I love my children,” he said. Jackson, who helps run an interdenominational organization of 27 churches, said families have to stop telling their children not to trust the police. He said with the Weed and Seed grant money his community received from the federal government they created a way for the community to communicate with the police. It’s an index card with a check list that lists things such as gang activity, drug activity, abandoned cars, trash, graffiti, etc. and a space at the bottom to tell police where to locate the activity. The card, which is handed over to law enforcement, is completely anonymous and is collected in the offering tray each Sunday at all 27 churches, Jackson said.