Suffolk University panel: Fight against gangs requires more than police

By Edward Donga, Patriot Ledger

BOSTON – Public safety experts say the fight against gang activity needs to go beyond police action to include a variety of tools, from tracking education and health care for at-risk youths to family counseling and street intervention.

“What we know from research and from practice is that making decisions based on data and attacking issues like this through a multidisciplinary approach works best,” Suffolk University professor Brenda Bond said at a seminar attended by police, politicians, and academics on Tuesday.

Bond led the discussion along with Erika Gebo her co-author of “Looking Beyond Suppression: Community Strategies to Reduce Gang Violence,” a book chronicling the success of Massachusetts communities using a Shannon Community Safety Initiative grant to combat local gang violence.

Brockton and Randolph received the grant, which is given to communities to create programs to prevent and suppress gang and youth violence.

“We use individuals who are familiar with the streets, who are familiar with the lingo. These individuals are often times even familiar with the individuals who are active,” said Michele Thibeaulp, project director for Brockton’s grant, said in a telephone interview before Tuesday’s seminar

During the discussion, panel members said that different programs must be designed based on an affected community’s specific needs.

“All gangs are a product of their locality,” said, Sgt. Miguel Lopez of the Worcester Police Department’s Gang Unit.

The panel also highlighted the importance of tailoring programs to individuals in each community by stating how putting gang members and at risk youth in the same program generates more crime.

“They (gang members) need deep-end services, but if we put kids that are just at-risk in those services, it is criminogenic,” Gebo said.

Thibeaulp, the Brockton grant coordinator, said much of the street work involves talking to at-risk youths and their families along with intervention in gang activity that includes talking with gang members and even going to hospitals after a gang-related shooting or stabbing to quell violent retaliation by a victim’s families or friends.

“(They are) working with your hardcore, gun carrying individuals … to really just try to have them rethink their approach on retaliation,” Thibeaulp said.

Despite the emphasis of prevention and intervention, both panel members and Thibeaulp agreed that there is a place for suppression in any plan to deal with gang activity.

“There is also a component for police to work on the suppression of gangs because there are some people, unfortunately, who for all the programs that are offered, they want nothing to do with it,” Theaulp said.

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