Getting schooled on gangs
June 9, 2011
By Steve Mocarsky firstname.lastname@example.orgStaff Writer
SUGARLOAF TWP. – Nearly 200 law enforcement officers, local officials and concerned citizens gathered Wednesday to hear a special agent with the FBI talk about fighting the gang problem in Northeastern Pennsylvania and question a panel of experts on the issue.
With Hazleton Mayor Joe Yannuzzi on his right, U.S. Rep Lou Barletta declares the U.S. Supreme Court decision a “huge victory” for Hazleton and other cities with similar immigration laws.
U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, and state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, hosted the Gang Awareness Information Session at Penn State Hazleton in response to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice that spotlighted the growing problem of gangs in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Hazleton was mentioned several times in the report as a place where drug trafficking organizations and gangs are strengthening operations. The report cited expansion into Kingston, Wilkes-Barre and other area communities.
Barletta said he and Hazleton Police Chief Robert Ferdinand recognized early on there was a gang problem in Hazleton that was so serious, they went to Washington, D.C., in 2005 to meet with DOJ officials to ask for help.
He said the major purpose of Wednesday’s session was to educate the community on the gang problem and what to do about it.
Supervisory Special Agent D. Darell Dones, a criminal behaviorist and instructor with the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., was guest speaker.
Street gangs are the most violent subculture in America today, and “wannabe gangs” are just as dangerous as nationally syndicated gangs, Dones said.
He talked about ways to identify gang members and the mindset of typical members. He said coming from “a dysfunctional family (with no male role model) is the single most important factor in why people want to join gangs.”
Other factors include acceptance of gang activity by parents who don’t know better and socio-economic pressures. Gang leaders want followers who won’t question their orders, Dones said.
“We fail to provide the guidance and the discipline that the baby boomers and others have had before us. And because of that, we’ve pretty much lost control of our kids. … If we don’t take control of our kids, the streets will,” he said.
Key to combating gangs is curtailing recruitment. “We’ve got to spend the time, we’ve got to do intervention and prevention programs … with kids in school from 4 years old to 7 years old before the mental mind is developed,” Dones said.
“You provide an alternative … to gang activity. The way to do that, parents, is through guidance and discipline. Give back the time that we have allowed social networking, the Wii stations, the PlayStations, to take from us and take our kids back. If you’re not willing to do that, then by the time they get to me and my counterparts, we’ll have to deal with them another way. You’re not going to like the way we’re going to have to deal with them,” he said.
Elected officials, religious leaders, concerned citizens and families all should be involved in forming anti-gang programs, Dones said.
“The state senator and the congressman have been good enough to start a proactive program that I have not seen anywhere in the country. That’s a start. They … are looking at this situation from a bipartisan standpoint, and together they’re willing to put aside their political means for the greatest resource that we have, which is our kids,” he said.
Yudichak said that some people criticized Barletta when he was mayor of Hazleton for making gangs an issue and suggested it was an attack on an individual group such as Latinos.
“What I learned early on in my work with Congressman Barletta in coming to the Hazleton community is that this was about fighting for our neighborhoods,” Yudichak said. “This is not just Hazleton’s problem, this is Northeastern Pennsylvania’s problem, and we have to work together as a region.”
Yudichak said he and Barletta would work with mayors of Hazleton, Wilkes-Barre, Nanticoke and Pittston to “put together the best practices and the best ideas we learn here tonight for a regional initiative that’s going to tackle this gang problem so that we can keep our communities safe.”
The audience asked questions of Dones and a panel of gang experts and including state police Trooper Kent Lane; Hazleton Detective Chris Orozco, who started the city’s Gang Task Force; Old Forge Police Chief Larry Semensa, a nationally recognized expert on outlaw motorcycle gangs; and First Assistant District Attorney Jeff Tokach. The moderator was Andy Mehalshick of WBRE-TV.
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