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Anti-gang awareness urged by officials during King's College seminar
February 24, 2012

By Bob Kalinowski (Staff Writer)  | Photo’s By Kristen Mullen/Staff Photographer


U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, right, and state Rep. John Yudichak speak as a panel of local experts look on during the Gang Awareness Information Session held in the Burke Auditorium at King's College.

The bi-county effort to combat gangs now has a name: Operation Gang Up.
It has an experienced advisor, Dr. D. Darrell Dones, a special agent and criminal behaviorist with the FBI.

Now, it's asking the community to get involved.

"That's what we're all about tonight, ganging up on the bad actors in our community," state Sen. John Yudichak told a standing-room-only audience Thursday night in the Burke Auditorium at King's College. "The only way gangs win is if we deny the problem exists."
The Operation Gang Up partnership was conceived by Yudichak, a Democrat from Plymouth Township, and U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, a Republican from Hazleton. Thursday's two-hour seminar, which included expert panelists from Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, was the second in a five-part gang awareness series being held across Northeastern Pennsylvania to update the community on the program's efforts.

"We have something more powerful that anything Washington or Harrisburg can give - that's ourselves," Barletta said.


FBI Special Agent D. Darrell Dones, from the Behavioral Science Unit, speaks during the Gang Awareness Information Session held in the Burke Auditorium at King's College.

During the day before the meeting, the officialsand Dones met with administrators at local high schools. Dones said schools need to be a focus of anti-gang awareness because they are a "meeting place and common ground to conduct business" for gangs. He said schools must do their part, but also get parents involved.

"We can't continue to depend on educators to discipline, provide guidance and be co-parent. We have to put the onus back where it belong - on the parents," Dones said.
Dones said it'd be naive to think gangs can be eradicated, but there's a way to reduce their impact.

Dones said he has been in near daily contact with Luzerne and Lackawanna county officials. He told them "if you are committed, I am committed."

Old Forge police Chief Larry Semenza said communities can lessen the impact of gangs, just like they can reduce speeding in areas targeted for enforcement.

"Let's make it like a street that has a speed trap on it. Everyone hits the brakes," he said.
Yudichak said Pennsylvania is one of the few states that doesn't have a law specifically targeting gang activity, and suggested the Legislature create one.

Robert Maguire, chairman of the Lackawanna County Gang Task Force, said he recently spoke to two gang members from California who said they moved to Pennsylvania for that very reason - and because they had "two strikes" in California.

Maguire said parents and teachers need to monitor what children are wearing and the music they're listening to. Community leaders must remove gang graffiti as soon as possible even if it means doing it over and over again, he said.

"You have to keep taking it down. You have to out will them," he said.

The organizers of Operation Gang Up plan to develop some committees with specific assignments for training and education, officials said.

Barletta said the large crowd made him hopeful the initiative will be a success.
"Whether you like it or not, you all now are part of a gang, 'Operation Gang Up,'" Barletta said.

 

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