Sureno_13_graffitiGraffiti that Red Bank police say refers to the Sureno 13 gang is visible in several locations, including this railroad gate on Drs. James Parker Boulevard.


Is gang activity a problem in the Red Bank area?

“Right now, people don’t want to believe it’s happening here,” says Peter Gibson, a Little Silver policeman who’s on part-time assignment as the school resource officer at Red Bank Regional High School. But it is, he says, at least in its early forms. Gang graffiti can be seen on certain streets. Kids will wear red or blue, traditional colors for the Bloods, Crips and other gangs.

“Then you have the number 13 jerseys,” Gibson said. The number refers to Surenos 13, or Sur 13, one of the more active gangs in the area, he said.

“Fortunately no major incidents have occurred in our school,” Gibson said. But he and assistant principal Risa Clay think that being proactive is the best way to prevent gang presence from escalating.

They teamed up last month to create a gang task force at RBR to combat the threat of gangs on the streets, in schools and at home. They invited key members of the community to the first meeting on Oct. 29 to discuss education, prevention and intervention. About 22 people participated from schools, police departments, churches and social services organizations in the area. Regular meetings are planned for the future.

At RBR, “We have a ‘no tolerance’ policy,” said Clay. “It includes dress and behavior and all expressions of (gang) affiliation.”

Gibson_clay_2School resource officer Peter Gibson and assistant principal Risa Clay of Red Bank Regional High School have pulled together a task force to prevent the spread of gang involvement by area youths.

But simply sending kids home with suspensions doesn’t keep them from getting sucked in by the undertow. With 15 years of experience at RBR and a deep background in counseling, she felt that proposing the idea of a gang task force to Gibson and the community at large was a natural step.

“We’re using a model of prevention and intervention used for other things such as alcohol and drug abuse,” Clay said. When a child is identified as being at risk, a small group of people within the gang task force will intervene. Exactly how that intervention will occur is still being discussed, though.

Capt. Steve McCarthy of the Red Bank Police Department attended the first meeting. “We are very encouraged and supportive of this,” he said. “We have seen some indication (of gang presence in the area), mainly in the form of graffiti,” McCarthy said. The graffiti, he said, “seems to run in waves.”

Gang activity is rising in Monmouth County. According to the 2007 New Jersey State Police survey on gang activity released last month, “the proportion of Central Region municipalities reporting the presence of gangs increased most sharply in Monmouth County” since 2004. Of the 52 county municipalities surveyed, 22 reported gang presence, including Red Bank and Middletown.

The survey also said most criminal gang activity in New Jersey involves “‘crimes of opportunity’ that do not require significant levels of coordination, skills or resources.” And while violent crime in schools is rare, 51 percent of respondents across the state reported gang activity on school property.

Cutting off recruitment at an early age is essential, saw law enforcement personnel. “Your average age for gang members is 11-years-old to 24-years-old,” Gibson said.

“Grade five is the best time to start,” Clay said. “It’s all about making good choices from a young age.” She noted that the G.R.E.A.T program (Gang Resistance, Education and Training) is already in place at Red Bank’s middle and charter schools. This helps her know where some of her 1,200-student population is starting in terms of education about gangs.

Both Gibson and Clay said prevention is about working together as a community. If a kid starts wearing a lot of red or blue, using odd handshakes or putting on different jewelry, even rubber bands, it may be a sign for others to jump in before someone starts to drown.

“Don’t ignore it,” said Gibson.

Clay is extending an invitation to all community leaders who feel they can make a contribution to join the gang task force. To participate or learn more, call her at 732.842.8000 or e-mail her.

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