April 30, 2009
Gang Awareness Seminar Ensures Area Incidents Stay Isolated
Following a recent gang-related incident on the trails of FishHawk, where some local resident were assaulted by known gang members, Newsome High School, in conjunction with the Hillsborough County gang task force, opened its auditorium to hold its first-ever gang awareness seminar last month.
Opening the meeting, which mainly targeted local students in hopes of providing them with information, FishHawk resident and school Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) President Debbie Edwards welcomed all in attendance and thanked them for supporting area high school and middle school resource officers, all who are on the forefront in keeping an eye on local gang activity and are well-supplied to provide parents, teachers and students information pertaining to and dealing with gang-related issues at local schools and in the community.
“I think our schools’ resource officers are doing a great job keeping this problem, so common in many neighborhoods, under control,” Edwards said.
Commenting on the effectiveness of the seminar and preparation on the part of the deputies, Edwards added, “The presentation and the wealth of useful information for both parents as well as students was outstanding.”
While Newsome High School Resource Officer Mike Alonso shared some information about ways to identify a gang or a gang member, deputies from area schools – including FishHawk, Riverview and Plant City – one-by-one provided a PowerPoint presentation pertaining to what is a gang, why do young people join a gang, what can parents and local residents look for to identify gang members and gang-related activity.
“Make no mistake about it, gangs are real,” Alonso said. “This is an important issue. There are 170 active gangs in Hillsborough County, with 3,200 certified members, many of them supplied with an arsenal of fire arms,” Alonso said.
Of course, there was no shortage of good advice from the experienced officers, including a number of detectives present from the Hillsborough County Sherriff’s Office’s Gang Unit.
“Keep your children busy instead of letting them hang out at Park Square with nothing to do,” Alonso said, adding, “There is nothing wrong with hanging out but having nothing to do can easily result in criminal activity.”
Riverview High School Resource Officer and FishHawk resident Tommy Shannon advised parents when he said, “Make your home a place of refuge and not a battle zone,” adding, “I do not see much gang activity in FishHawk but do not be misled, it does reach all races and economic levels.”
Tomlin Middle School Resource Officer Victor Vasquez, who emphasized that gang activity is very common even in middle schools, talked extensively about the difference between tagging and graffiti and how residents can deal with the issue.
“Work with local law enforcement and take back your neighborhood and community,” Vasquez said.
All law enforcement personnel present during the seminar were unanimous about the fact that gang awareness meetings will continue to be a part of the effort to control area gangs and gang activity.
“Communities must come together,” said detective Mark Wilder, of the Hillsborough County Sherriff’s Office’s Gang Unit. “These meetings help each member of the community to pay attention to and report signs of gang activity and to be aware of gang related signs, behavior in our children and the steps everyone can take to control and, ultimately, eradicate gangs and gang-related criminal activity.”
For more information about gangs or to report gang activity, residents are encouraged to call the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office’s Tampa Bay Area Gang Hotline at (877) 426-4688 (Gang Out). Students are also encouraged to report gang activity to their school resource officer, which can be done anonymously.