Parents, Caregivers Tell City, School Officials: Bulkeley High Does Have Gang Problems
STEVEN GOODE and JEFFREY B. COHEN
October 22, 2009
HARTFORD — - City and school officials continued to reject the notion that there is gang activity in city schools right up until they were told differently by mothers and grandmothers in the room with them Wednesday.
"Two weeks ago my daughter called me from the bathroom [in Bulkeley High School] where she was hiding and asking me, 'Can I go home?'" said Maria Gomez, whose daughter described what she called a riot in the cafeteria.
"At Bulkeley," said Cherylann Perry, whose granddaughter attends the school, "we do have a gang problem." Wednesday's meeting at the school board's central office involving parents, Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts and Superintendent Steven Adamowski came just days after an internal police memo, claiming that the city suffered from "gang infestation," was reported in The Courant. Since then, city and school officials have said that the gang problem described in a successful $500,000 federal grant application does not match the reality on the ground today.
Meanwhile, city officials now say there was a "miscommunication" between the departments of police and youth services as the grant was being prepared. The result was that the grant application included a "broad" definition of the term "gangs" — a definition that police say is not used by the federal government.
The original police memo that spoke of "gang infestation" and more than 4,000 gang members in the city was written on June 4. The grant was submitted on June 15.
But three days earlier, Assistant Police Chief Neil Dryfe wrote to Mayor Eddie A. Perez, Roberts and youth services Director Enid Rey, asking them not to use the numbers in the original police memo. He explained that "many of the smaller, younger and less formal groups do not meet the definition of a gang that would be accepted by the Justice Department or other law enforcement agencies."
"We would respectfully ask that the information contained in the June 4, 2009, memo not be used as the basis for defining or identifying street gangs and street gang members in the City of Hartford," Dryfe wrote.
David Panagore, the city's chief operating officer, stressed that everyone involved at the city had good intentions, but that the short time frame for preparing the grant caused a mix-up.
"Was there a miscommunication? Yes," Panagore said. "Is the money needed? Yes."
Adamowski also said Wednesday that his staff was changing its grant review procedures. That move came after Adamowski's staff wrote a letter of support for the grant without reviewing all of its supporting documents — including the memo detailing gang activity in the schools.
In the Bulkeley incident, eight male students were cited by police and suspended, and some of them were recommended for expulsion, school officials said.
School officials and Adamowski initially downplayed the Bulkeley incident and the women's blunt assessment of the situation. But eventually Adamowski relented as he recalled the dismantling of the city's other massive, failing high schools where violence and gang activity were commonplace before they were replaced with smaller, themed academies.
"Bulkeley is the one high school that was not redesigned," Adamowski said. "I think we have to turn our attention to Bulkeley and say this is a school that needs to be redesigned. We are capable of this. We know how to create good schools."
The problem might extend beyond Bulkeley High School, according to Harrison George, a former gang member who spent time in prison and now works with kids in an alternative-to-suspension program at Simpson Waverly School and also runs a youth football program.
"If you want to know if you have gangs in elementary schools, yes you do. If you want to know if you have gangs in your middle schools, yes you do. If you want to know if you have gangs in your high schools, yes you do," George said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at