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November 27, 2014

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Police: Kids’ involvement with gangs starts early

Parents at Becker Middle School got an insider's perspective on local gang activity at a Parent Advisory Committee, or PACE, meeting last week in the school library.

Sgt. Tony Morales of the Metro Police gang unit and Det. Calvin Walker of the CCSD Police Department served as guest speakers on Wednesday. They covered everything from gang paraphernalia to parent involvement.

"Not every kid involved with gangs is a bad kid," said Morales, a 17-year veteran of Metro's gang unit. "Locking them up and throwing away the key is not the solution. A lot of these kids are just waiting for us to reach out to them and pull them up."

Among the gangs prevalent in the Las Vegas Valley, Morales said, are Squad Up, Murder One Squad and Da Block — each of which is known as a "hybrid gang" where kids from different cliques can join forces.

"A lot of people think this starts in high school, but it begins much earlier than that," Morales said. "We're talking about kids who are getting involved in gangs when they are 8 or 9 years old. We need to reach out to them early."

Metro's gang unit will often contact a child's family to investigate whether something in the family structure is causing a youngster to go down the wrong path.

"Parents will tell us they don't know what to do, but we try to empower them and teach them other methods of discipline," Morales said.

If children are misbehaving, Morales suggested restricting usage of cell phones, TVs or their favorite clothes. He also recommended that parents keep an eye on cell phone bills and text messages.

"Remind your kids that you paid for all of that stuff, not them," Morales said.

There isn't one "bad" school in Las Vegas, Walker said — only a few bad kids at each school.

"If you really wanted a perfect school, we could do that for you," he said. "I could just walk into every school, take out about 20 to 30 kids and almost all the problems would be gone. But we can't do that."

One of the prevalent gangs in northwest Las Vegas, Walker said, is the Juggalos — a group inspired by the hard rock band "Insane Clown Posse," or "ICP." Members of the Juggalos are often seen wearing shirts bearing the ICP's "hatchet man" logo.

"Not every child wearing those shirts is a gang member," Walker said. "They will tell you 'mom, I just listen to Insane Clown Posse.' But unfortunately, the Juggalos are a documented gang."

Walker also discussed proper parenting and described a time when he met a mother who treated her daughter like a "friend," allowing her to occasionally smoke or drink as long as it was within the household.

"How stupid can you be? If she drinks and smokes in the house, she's going to drink and smoke in the streets," he said.

The meeting also covered graffiti, and Walker reminded the audience that every community in the Las Vegas Valley suffers from it.

"Gang members in east Las Vegas aren't getting in their cars, driving all the way to Summerlin to write it and then going home," he said. "The people are right in these neighborhoods and we need to understand that."

Metro is hosting its 4th annual Gang Conference from March 4 to March 7 at Fitzgeralds Casino & Hotel in downtown Las Vegas. The public is invited to attend on March 7 for a $25 registration fee.

The conference will examine everything from gang trends to hate groups and graffiti investigations, but Walker said that Metro still has a long ways to go.

"There should be a long, long line at that conference of parents wanting to come in," he said. "Unfortunately, the people we really need to talk to aren't going to be there."

Parents or students with concerns about gang-related activity are encouraged to call Walker at 799-7830 ext. 5282.

Jeff O’Brien can be reached at 990-8957 or [email protected].

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