Sgt. Greg Pass, Prince William police, dispelled some myths about gangs Thursday evening at a meeting at All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas.
Pass, who is in charge of the Prince William Gang Unit, told about 100 people in the audience of parents and community leaders that gang membership is on the rise in the area.
He also presented classic warning signs parents and teachers should know to spot gang involvement in their children.
The myths, Pass said, can make parents, teachers and civic leaders complacent.
No one expects the children they know to be in a gang.
Gangs are not confined to urban areas, he said.
There were seven gang related murders in Prince William County between 2002 and 2003, Pass said.
Gang activity is not restricted to the lower socio-econmic strata.
Children join gangs for the perceived power they will gain through membership. They like the notoriety, protection and the feeling and belonging they get from gang membership.
Those temptations are not limited to poor children, Pass said.
Sex also has a role in gang recruitment, Pass said.
“The guys in the gangs think the girls love them and sometimes they do,” he said.
The weapon of preference in local gangs is the machete, he said. Automatic assault weapons are hard to come by, Pass said, as he showed one he confiscated from a gang member during an arrest.
The machete was encased in a custom leather sheath with fringes that probably cost more that the machete itself.
Parents on guard against gangs should look for teens and adolescents changing their dress, including specific colors or emblems worn in specific ways, using hand signals, Pass said.
Another sign might be graffiti on bedroom walls or school books, Pass said.
Other indications might include a newfound interest in guns, knives or other weapons, Pass said.
The purpose of the seminar was to get people’s attention and raise awareness about gangs in Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park.
Pass aimed his presentation at parents, teachers, church and civic leaders who might know children susceptible to gang recruitment and urged them to get ahead of the gangs.
“We’ve got to get these kids at a young age,” he said.
Father Bob Cilinski of All Saint Catholic Church said one of the biggest hurdles facing the community is admitting that gangs exist in the area.
Once that admission is made, Cilinski said, members of the community must also recognize that gangs threaten children they know.
The recognition should spur the community to form coalitions of faith-based, business, civic, school and governmental organizations to find governments grants and apply them to a programs for children and to initiate and fund the programs themselves when government grants fail.
“The fruits of that will be peace,” Cilinski said.
Hank Azais, who organized the meeting, called for people to get involved and pointed out a table with volunteer forms for anyone who wanted to help.
“We’ve got to get a task force going, ” said Azais a local youth advocate and community activist.