Hartford Police Memo Cites 'Alarming Increase' In Gang Recruitment In Schools
JEFFREY B. COHEN and STEVEN GOODE
October 16, 2009
HARTFORD — - The city is suffering from a "gang infestation," with more than 138 street gangs and 4,000 members, including 800 under age 17, according to an internal police memorandum obtained by The Courant.
The trend that disturbs police the most: "In 2009 the most alarming increase in gang activity has been documented within the public middle schools," the document says, describing middle school playgrounds with a "prison yard atmosphere."
It notes that as "smaller gangs are joining forces against larger rival gangs … recruitment is at an all-time high."
The June 4 memorandum was written to help justify a federal grant application seeking $500,000 to match young people with adult mentors. It was written by Lt. Luis Rodriguez, commander of the department's intelligence division, and was sent to Assistant Chief Brian Heavren, who leads the city's detective division.
But Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts cautioned Thursday that the memo doesn't distinguish enough between "formal gangs" rooted in crime and "informal gangs" arising out of a sense of belonging: "Ten guys on the block, let's all put on red jackets, and now we're a gang," he said.
Roberts pointed out that gang violence this summer was less than the year before.
The detailed description of gang activity in the memo comes during a violent week in the city — four people have been shot dead in five days. There have been 30 homicides this year, just two shy of last year's total, with more than two months to go.
The memo concludes that many of the old rules about gang membership are gone. It doesn't matter anymore how old you are, what race you are, or whether you were in a rival gang before — there's an "open forum" for recruiting, meaning gangs are growing quickly.
Many of the gangs, such as C-Block, Affleck Street Posse, Orange Street Killas, Wes-Hell/WHCF, York Street Posse, have ties to large national gangs — Latin Kings, Los Solidos, Bloods and Crips, the memo says.
Quirk Middle School, off Albany Avenue in the North End, has three gangs — 2 Deep, FFK (Funky Fresh Kidz), and DDP (Dominicans Don't Play), the memo says. Members of 2 Deep, police say, have taken on the "hand signs and graffiti coding of the East Coast Bloods and often follow their 'tagging' with the words "SooWoop" a common Blood call/identifier."
Other East Coast cities are seeing a rising trend of gang affiliation with the Bloods, and the state's Department of Correction "has identified the 'Bloods' as the most significant designated Security Risk Group (SRG) within the prison walls," the memo says.
"This trend," it says, "has been mirrored on the streets and is apparent by the growing number of 'Bloods' involved in criminal activity within the City of Hartford."
There are Crips in the city, too, the memo says, adding that "their numbers increase on a daily basis." At the Kennelly School in the South End is a "small set" that identifies itself as the "Rollin' 40's," a group associated with the Crips, according to the document, which was obtained as part of a freedom of information request. Police say the members have been identified and their parents and guardians have been notified.
After the memo was written, Assistant Chief Neil Dryfe wrote an e-mail to Mayor Eddie A. Perez and others explaining that the memo used "a very broad definition of 'gang' and 'gang member.'" Dryfe said that young members of informal gangs are "at risk" of full-fledged gang involvement as they get older.
Milly Arciniegas, who heads the Hartford Parent Organization Council, a consortium of PTOs, said Thursday that parents across the school system have expressed concern about gang activity in the schools.
"There is serious concern, but what they are really expressing concern about is not being notified," she said.
Andrea Johnson, president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, said Thursday that she had been notified of increased gang activity in the middle and high schools and that she planned to address the issue with School Superintendent Steven Adamowski.
"I would hope that the administration would work to get teachers informed and more security involved," Johnson said. "I would hope that Adamowski would spend the money to make the schools more safe. This is not something any student entering a public school should have to endure."
David Medina, a spokesman for the school system, said Thursday that the grant memo was a police matter and that it would be inappropriate for the district to comment.
The Rev. Henry Brown, who with the Mothers United Against Violence group organizes and attends prayer vigils for city homicide victims, has planned a rally for Monday at city hall to demand that politicians provide leadership to end violence.
Perez declined to comment Thursday. His spokeswoman, Sarah Barr, said the city was pleased to receive the $500,000 mentoring grant and said it was part of the city's "multipronged" approach to youth violence.
"Are we concerned about our kids?" Barr said. "Absolutely. That's why we have to make sure that everyone is involved in keeping our kids on track."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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