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Hartford City, School Officials Try To Answer Questions About Gangs In Schools

STEVEN GOODE and JEFFREY B. COHEN

October 21, 2009

HARTFORD - City and school officials at two separate venues Tuesday continued to try to answer questions about a recent police department report that gang activity is on the rise in city schools.

Hartford police, in an application for a $500,000 federal grant for a city-run, anti-gang youth mentoring program, said that "many youth of the ages 10 to 13 are recruited right at school and immersed in the gang culture by the time they reach middle and high school," and that "the [Intelligence] Division's database reflects that this open forum for recruitment and acceptance has made it simple for over 800 children to choose this lifestyle."

Superintendent Steven Adamowski said at a board of education meeting that information provided by police in the application was either outdated or inaccurate, especially relating to Quirk Middle School and Kennelly School, which were highlighted as gang hot spots.

"We've talked to the principals of these schools who have indicated that there is no gang activity," Adamowski said.

But when pressed to comment on the accuracy of the level of gang activity described in the grant Adamowski said, "I don't know. I think we need to get the chief's perspective on what they meant."

Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez, a school board member, blamed the media, saying what "we read in the paper was very inflammatory."

Perez also said that "the truth is" local gangs were more akin to unorganized street crews and not associated with the Crips or Latin Kings. But his comments were disputed by the grant application, which reported that a half-dozen of the city's smaller gangs, such as "The AVE" and the "Affleck Street Posse," are affiliated nationally with the Bloods and the Solidos respectively.

School board member Luis Rodriguez-Davila said the naive notion that there is no gang activity in city schools "is almost incredible."

Milly Arciniegas, a parent and leader of the Hartford Parent Organization Council, a consortium of city PTOs, said the community needs accurate information.

"I'm exhausted," said Arciniegas, one of many parents scheduled to meet with Adamowski and Roberts today to talk about the issue. "For the last three days I've been trying to figure out who is telling the truth. It's got to stop."

While the board of education was meeting, Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts and youth services Director Enid Rey were at city hall trying to provide answers to the city council's public safety committee and were also blaming the media for sensationalizing the issue.

Roberts, who told the committee that the numbers used by the department were from last year, stressed that the summer of 2009 saw far less gang violence than the summer of 2008.

"I would be less than truthful if I said there were no gangs," Roberts said. "But there were members of the media out this summer on Garden Street. There was no mention of gangs. They talked about litter, blighted property ... if there was a real gang issue they [would have seen it] firsthand."

Schools security chief Joseph Sikora also downplayed the description of gang activity in schools, telling the public safety committee that "overall, we've seen little, if any, of this gang activity in our schools."

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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