ST. GEORGE – From time to time, realtors and members of the media ask Lt. David Moss of the St. George Police Department about gang activity in local schools. “Which school is the worst?” they ask, and how does Moss reply?
“We have a drug and gang influence in all of our schools,” Moss answers.
Though the statement may sound severe, Moss, who acts as the commander of the Washington County Area Drug and Gang Task Force, said things are not as bad as people may think.
The severity of which school may have the worst gang activity happens in waves, Moss said. No one school is the reigning champion of gang-related incidents for very long.
“There’s no one area that’s a big problem right now,” he said.
Still, some parents remain concerned. A St. George News reader recently wrote that her son was dealing with gangs in a local intermediate school.
“By and large, we don’t deal with gangs in intermediate schools,” Moss said. The traditional stomping grounds for gang members are more the middle schools and high schools.
With the exception of the drive-by shooting in Mesquite in November 2011, Moss said there have been no significant gang-related incidents within the last year.
What keeps activity low?
Moss said one of the factors that helped keep gang activity in schools down was a practice called “suppression.” Suppression involves police officers making personal visits to the homes of known gang members and reminding said individuals that the police know who they are and that they are being watched.
In addition to suppression, Moss said the task force gives regular presentations to parents on what to look for if they suspect their child has joined a gang.
Some of the signs included are:
- Wearing gang-related apparel.
- Listening to so-called “gangsta rap.”
- Hanging around known gang members.
- Getting into trouble with the police.
“If someone sees the signs, they’d better call us,” Moss said.
As for the schools, each intermediate school, middle school and high school in the Washington County School District is assigned a resource officer.
“The resource officers do such a great job for us,” said Craig Hammer, the executive director of secondary schools for the district.
The presence of the officers in the schools has helped turn things around for the better, Hammer said. The students see the officers as “the good guys.”
“They are a valuable asset,” Hammer added.
In addition to the officers, the Washington County School District also enforces strict policies concerning gang-related apparel and suspected gang membership. Violations of district policy can lead to suspension and ultimately expulsion.
“It seems the clothes and officers have worked,” Hammer said, and noted he had yet to see any major reports of gang trouble cross his desk.
“[That is] a great credit to our administration and resource officers,” he said.
While gang activity in Washington County schools remains low, Moss said the public needed to become better educated when it came to gangs.
“Too many people think kids here are just ‘wannabes.’” Moss said. “There are gangs present.”
Moss said the St. George area contains over 20 gangs with established hierarchies, as well as unorganized groups and individual members who belong to out-of-town gangs. Most gangs are connected in some way to the six major gangs in the United States – the Surenos, Nortenos, Crips, Bloods, Folk Nation and People Nation.
The Surenos, a gang based out of Southern California, is the most prolific gang in the St. George area and is largely represented by members of Rebel 13.
Yet, despite the presence of the gangs in Washington County and its schools, efforts between the school district and the gang task force have helped keep incidents relatively minor.
Copyright 2012 St. George News.