Albemarle Chief of Police Col. Steve Sellers (left), Charlottesville Chief of Police Tim Longo (right)
Albemarle and Charlottesville police are taking a stand against gang violence, and they want community members to get involved.
Officers are promoting activities that can help steer kids away from negative or destructive influences, saying they're setting a precedent for the rest of the state to follow. By working with community organizations and spreading awareness to parents, they hope to curb youth involvement in gangs.
Albemarle County and Charlottesville police have GRACE, the Gang Reduction through Active Community Engagement program. Officers hope it inspires the community to action.
"This isn't just a police issue, it's a community issue, and it takes an entire community to address it, ultimately with the goal of reducing gang involvement by our youth," said Col. Steve Sellers, Albemarle County Chief of Police.
Monday, the two police departments announced state funding for a part-time coordinator to provide staff support for the program. The executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Central Virginia, James Pierce, says youth perception of police and authority figures is an important aspect of the issue.
"We have two fantastic leaders who understand the importance of prevention and being proactive, so that when a 6-year-old sees a person with a badge and a uniform, they think ‘friend,' and nothing else," Pierce said.
The project involves the creation of a steering committee that would develop community activities for area youth. Police say this effort is groundbreaking, and could set an example for the rest of the state.
"I think today is significant in terms of, it's kind of a marking point or a stepping-off point that shows that we've gained attention from a state level, OK, and what we're doing here is the right thing, and a model for the state to follow," Sellers said.
While gangs are an ever-present issue, police say awareness and action are the best forms of support for youth. The steering committee is actively looking for new members, preferably with some knowledge of or experience with gangs.
Anyone who wants to be involved in the GRACE steering committee can contact Sellers at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jenna Easton at EastonJ@albemarle.org. Anyone who knows of people or groups who may want to talk to GRACE about how gangs do or do not affect their lives can call Maryfrances Porter at 434-825-4841.
Albemarle County Police Department Press Release:
(Charlottesville)—A joint Charlottesville-Albemarle comprehensive anti-gang initiative will soon have help from the state to strengthen its efforts.
The Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) has agreed to fund a part-time coordinator to provide staff support for the Gang Reduction Through Active Community Engagement (GRACE) Program. GRACE is a multi-agency anti-gang program that was formed in March, 2012. It involves the city and county police departments, as well as schools, juvenile courts, social service organizations and grass roots groups. Its aim is to implement the Comprehensive Gang Model that was developed by the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). The OJJDP Model seeks to bring a comprehensive approach to the problem that involves not only gang suppression and enforcement strategies but also prevention and intervention efforts to reach youths and steer them away from gang involvement.
The new coordinator will assist the GRACE program in promoting community engagement and a proactive approach to reducing gang activity in target neighborhoods. Additionally, the coordinator will work with participating agencies—schools, juvenile courts, law enforcement officials, probation officers, government agencies, faith-based organizations, grassroots groups—to connect youths in these neighborhoods with prevention and intervention services and offer them alternatives to gang involvement.
"To have a truly comprehensive approach to this problem, we've involved a diverse array of agencies and community organizations in the GRACE Program," said Col. Steve Sellers, Albemarle County Chief of Police. "All of them have a lot to offer. The new coordinator will really help us maintain focus and consistency, and take full advantage of the commitment and expertise of our members."
Garth Wheeler, Director of DCJS, noted that combating gang activity is a priority of Governor McDonnell and the Department. "The GRACE Program is an excellent example of communities coming together to deal with this complex problem. We are very pleased that we're able to help."
The new coordinator, whose title will be Gang Reduction and Intervention Program (GRIP) Coordinator, will work in the Albemarle County Police Department.
Reported by Rob Manch
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