Over the last decade, we have seen a large increase in population in America’s suburban communities. Unfortunately, in the Northern Virginia area and its surrounding communities, the massive growth in population also brings some negative baggage, including gang members and their beliefs. Gang membership has been on the rise, largely due to the presence of MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha). This is by far the largest gang in the area, with an estimated three thousand active members in northern Virginia alone. Despite this increase in gang activity, law enforcement has done a good job educating the community and cracking down on gangs. And it has effectively reduced gang violence in the area. To continue to seek justice and reduce crime in our communities, strong ties between police and members of the community are of the utmost importance. In order to keep this gang epidemic from spreading further into our communities and schools, we must employ three types of prevention techniques.
- Primary Prevention: Focuses on the entire population at risk and the identification of those conditions (personal, social, environmental) that promote criminal behavior. This type of prevention could include afterschool programs, Neighborhood Watch, or any other range of activities that offer alternatives/deter would-be gang members.
- Secondary Prevention: Targets those who have been identified as being at greater risk to becoming delinquent. Giving our at-risk youth activities or jobs that occupy their time will decrease the likelihood of engaging in delinquent behavior.
- Tertiary Prevention: Targets those who are already involved in criminal activity or who are gang members. Providing gang members with work programs that offer a legal and productive alternative from delinquent activities may be helpful. Also, therapy can sometimes prove useful as a way to get to the root of why he or she became a gang member and how he or she can move past his or her former lives. (Wilson, 2000)
Thanks to relentless help and tips from residents in the Northern Virginia area, a leader of the MS-13 gang has been recently sentenced to 50 years in federal prison. Northern Virginia has done a great job of dealing with this trending issue and can serve as a good model for suburban and even rural areas all over the country. There is nowhere in America that is still completely untouched by gangs or gang ideology. However, by having communities and local residents use the prevention techniques previously stated, as well as cooperating with local and area law enforcement, we can drastically reduce crime due to gang- related activity.
Author: Hamel, Parker (NCPC Intern).