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Gangs worry educators, police

POSTED: July 5, 2007 5:02 a.m.
Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series of articles about gangs in Liberty County.

Gangs are a growing concern in Liberty County, and school administrators and local law enforcement agencies are working to counter the problem.
Since many presumed gang members are either juveniles or young adults, administrators of various schools in the region offered insights on the issue.
At Liberty County High School, they are constantly combating gangs, LCHS Principal Paula Scott said.
Despite gangs representing a small population of her student body, Scott voiced concern, saying, “I think it’s a growing problem.”
She said students flash gang signs, wear specific colors to show their affiliation or loyalty to a gang and wear cheap jewelry (like beaded or candy necklaces) to show involvement.
When school officials determine a clothing color, hand motion, accessory or drawing is gang related, they ban the style of dress or behavior, and they contact the student’s parents, she said.
But Bradwell Institute principal Dr. Vicki Albritton shared a different point of view.
“I do believe that some students will pretend to be affiliated with a gang while at school because it’s the cool thing to do or they believe it keeps them safe from something,” she said.
Albritton said Bradwell has had fewer out-of-school suspensions this year compared to last year, and she believes that less than one percent of her 1,800 students share gang affiliation.
In a previous comment, she said, “I believe there probably is some gang activity, but I’m not a law enforcement officer so I can’t tell you exactly how much.”
Snelson-Golden Middle School Principal Dr. Chris Garretson said it seems like gang activity goes in cycles, so it can be hard to estimate the trends.
He said the juvenile court has problems prosecuting children who are gang members because they may be so young certain laws don’t pertain to them.
Garretson was also an assistant principal at Bradwell in the mid 1990’s, and said the administration didn’t know a gang presence was growing and they did not take gangs seriously. Now they are “playing catch up.”
A majority of the schools in the area have preventative programs to deter kids from entering gangs, and the aforementioned schools all have random drug sweeps conducted by police to reduce drug use and trafficking, he said.
Scott said LCHS and the other schools are continually working with law enforcement, but can’t precisely decipher the secret activities of gangs until students are caught or arrested.
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