Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Police reach benchmark in gang-prevention classes

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Four years ago, the Frederick Police Department started using a nationally recognized gang prevention program at city middle schools.

As of December, that instruction had reached 1,500 Frederick youths, a number Police Chief Kim C. Dine finds significant.

‘‘The fact that we’ve reached 1,500 kids through this course signifies to me the recognition that you have to address gangs in many different ways,” he said. ‘‘You can’t just arrest this away.”

In 2003, the department received an initial federal grant to train officers in the Gang Resistance Education and Training Program (G.R.E.A.T.), bringing it first to West Frederick Middle School in 2004. Taught by city police, the course gives young people instruction in concepts such as how to avoid the lure of gangs, build self-esteem and create an understanding and respect for doing the right thing.

As of last year, with additional federal funds, the department was able to expand the program to Gov. Thomas Johnson and Monocacy middle schools. The program’s training costs, including books and teaching aids, are fully funded or supplied by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Dine said that the instruction is a key component of the four-pronged approach his department takes in battling gangs in Frederick: enforcement, education, prevention and investigation. He said that the department also works to educate adults through presentations at Neighborhood Advisory Council meetings and professional meetings, such as with the county’s Realtors.

‘‘It is critical for people, children and adults alike, to understand the dynamics of gangs, including why they form, how they operate and the signs of their existence,” he said. ‘‘In a sense, that is what community policing is all about. If people don’t understand [gangs], the more difficult it is to protect them from gangs and there needs to be a willingness and strong desire to talk about the issue.”