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Cops give tips on keeping kids away from gangs at boro forum

A city Department of Education gang specialist, who declined to be named, adjusts a skull belt buckle, which was used to demonstrate to parents how weapons could be hidden. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) and representatives of the NYPD as well as the city Department of Education visited Elmhurst’s Pan American High School last week to teach parents how to prevent their children from falling in with gangs.

“I think today what we’re focusing on is empowering the parents,” Ferreras said.

More than 50 parents and teenagers attended the meeting at Pan American, at 45-10 94th St. Presenters speaking in English and Spanish urged students to both keep track of their children’s lives and to encourage children to take part in after-school activities.

“This is the opportunity to ask because the experts are here,” Ferreras said.

The FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center reports there are about 22,000 gang members in New York City, with 2,500 to 3,500 of them operating in Queens.

A presentation by the DOE’s Gang Intelligence Unit illustrated the telltale signs of gang affiliation.

Some examples included graffiti written on backpacks, bandanas, beads and even rosaries that can be worn for their similarity to gang colors. Sports team paraphernalia is sometimes worn by members because the colors match up with gang colors. Gang members may also paint the inside of their pants pockets with gang colors and may communicate with hand signals.

The presentation also showed how ordinary-looking objects could be deadly weapons. A belt buckle cracked in half revealed a large knife hiding inside. Another buckle was popped off the belt and had a knife at the end. The DOE gang specialist urged parents to check possessions as well as monitor their children’s activities online.

Community Affairs Officer Keith O’Donnell said the NYPD has many programs available for children to participate in as an alternative to gangs, including the juvenile auxiliary police force program Law Enforcement Explorers, the Summer Youth Police Academy and the Summer Youth Employment program. Information about these programs can be found on nyc.gov/nypd under Community Affairs and Youth Programs.

O’Donnell said the best way to prevent a teen from joining a gang is to keep them in school. For children who are already involved, he said they need to be removed from the gang and separated from their former gang members as much as possible.

“Don’t act the part, don’t look the part of being a gang member,” he said.

O’Donnell said that while the Bloods and Crips still have a presence in Queens, it is crucial to remember that incidents of crime in the city have gone down by 80 percent in the last 28 years.

“It’s not as bad as you think it is,” he said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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