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Parents, School Officials Surprised By Gangs In Hartford

STEVEN GOODE

October 17, 2009

HARTFORD - Parents, school board members and the school superintendent said Friday they were taken by surprise by an internal police department memorandum that said the city is suffering from a "gang infestation" and that gang activity was increasing among middle school students.

According to the memo, which was obtained by The Courant, the police department intelligence division has identified 138 street gangs with nearly 4,200 members, including 800 under the age of 17.

The memo also noted that "in 2009 the most alarming increase in gang activity has been documented within the public middle schools."

Police officials and others have acknowledged that gangs are a problem in the city, but the memo lays out specific numbers in unusual detail. On Thursday, Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts cautioned that the memo didn't distinguish enough between "formal gangs" and "informal gangs" of loosely affiliated youths.

Parent groups want to discuss the issue with the superintendent.

"I called Dr. Adamowski early this morning. Parents want a meeting," said Milly Arciniegas, who heads the Hartford Parent Organization Council, a consortium of PTOs in the city. "We're going to ask if they were aware or not and see what the story is."

City school Superintendent Steven Adamowski was unavailable for comment, but said in an e-mail to school board members and other city officials, "We have received no information or advisement from the [police] department regarding gang activity."

"I had not been aware of it until this morning.," said school board member David McDonald. "The police department should have told us."

The memo, dated June 4, was written by Lt. Luis Rodriguez, commander of the department's intelligence division, in support of a $500,000 grant application for a program that would match "at-risk" young people with adult mentors.

The memo said "smaller gangs are joining forces against larger rival gangs and that recruitment is at an all time high," and some middle school gangs have adopted gang hand signs and graffiti.

Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez acknowledged Friday that communication between the city, the police department, the school system and parents could be improved.

But he also stressed that the goal of the memo and the mentor grant application, which was approved, was to continue to identify issues facing the city's young people, especially those at risk of becoming involved in gang activity, and to find resources to address them.

"This grant is really an endorsement of our strategies in dealing with youth issues," Perez said. "We want to make a difference in the lives of young people dealing with difficult issues."

Enid Rey, director of youth services for the city, said the $500,000 grant would focus on youngsters who are disconnected from their families and community, and provide them with adult support.

"When that adult presence drops off, sometimes they circle back [to past gang associations], Rey said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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