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June 30, 2004

Oswego County Agencies Learn to Recognize Youth Gangs

Have you seen the number 187 or the letters BK or BOS on clothing, graffiti, or written on notes? Is this some sort of shorthand? In a way -- these are terms commonly used by gangs.

The central region of the Association of New York State Youth Bureaus held a Gang Awareness Seminar in June at the State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. The room was filled to capacity with representatives from youth bureaus, community-based organizations, education, law enforcement, probation, local and state government, park and recreation, faith-based organizations, and the medical community. Over 20 people from Oswego County attended, including personnel from law enforcement, the youth bureau, probation, alcohol and drug agencies, youth agencies, and the State University College at Oswego.

Captain Anthony Farina, who recently retired from the Rockland County Gang Intelligence Task Force, held the audience's attention with pictures, videos, and stories about gang activity.

"Many people tend to associate gangs with large urban areas, and have a 'not in my town' mentality," said Kathleen Fenlon, Executive Director of the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau. "It is evident from Captain Farina's presentation that there is gang activity in central New York, and that it is in both urban and rural areas." Gang activity can be identified through hand signs, handshakes, greetings, wearing certain colors, bandanas, beads, tattoos, suspenders, footwear, and even the way clothing is worn. "Gangs are motivated by money, drugs, and power," said Fenlon. "Captain Farina suggests that the way to address gang activity is to shut down the feeder system in order to minimize recruitment into gangs."

A panel of local individuals talked about gang prevention. The panel had representation from law enforcement, schools, community-based organizations, faith based organizations, probation, and young people. They agreed that kids are attracted to gangs for the same reasons they are attracted to after school programs and activities-they need to belong, need to feel included, and need to feel protected.

"Many young people are involved in a variety of programs and activities after school, but many more go home to an empty house, with limited activities available," said Fenlon. "For some of these children, gangs offer them friendship, inclusion, protection, and something to do. The Gang Awareness training really pointed out the importance of having a variety of after-school programs for young people."

Captain Farina ended his presentation with the following quote: "Remember: A gang is only as strong as the community allows it to be." He said there needs to be a strong collaborative community effort which includes schools, faith based organizations, law enforcement, parents, community based organizations, probation, and businesses. Parents need to spend quality time with their kids, pay attention to who their friends are and how they are spending their time, meet the parents of their child's friends, become involved with their education, and ensure that their kids become involved in positive school and community programs and activities including sports, drama, music, working, religious activities, drop in centers, and community service programs.

So what does the shorthand mean? The number 187 stands for the "California Homicide Hotline," "BK" stands for "Blood Killer," and "BOS" stands for "Beat on Site." The central region of the Association of New York State Youth Bureaus partnered with the State of New York Police Juvenile Officers' Association, the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services, the NYS Office of Children and Family Services for the Gang Awareness Training, and the Central New York Parks and Recreation Society. For additional information, contact Fenlon at the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau at 349-3451.

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