LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Gangs: It’s a problem that not everyone is willing to talk about.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department knows of 275 kids in the valley with gang affiliations.
Metro Lt. Reggie Rader considers that a small number in a growing community.
The Clark County School District and North Las Vegas police won’t even discuss it. A statement from CCSD sent after this story published appears at the bottom of the story.
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Overall, gang crime is down among youths in the valley, Metro said. They credit some community programs that are working to stop the problem before it starts.
Alex Bernal, who supervises a gang intervention program at Parkdale Community Center near Boulder Highway and Desert Inn Road, describes it this way:
“When you do intervention or prevention work, you’re a fireman. You’re a firewoman,” he said. “Your job is that when you see smoke, you wanna hurry up, you wanna hurry up and knock out that smoke before it turns into a fire.”
And the programs are pretty good at spotting the smoke.
“They’ll have a name or a symbol they’ll usually identify under and you know sometimes it’ll change but it can be just a small group of three or four,” Rader said.
“Most of our juvenile gangs tend to be smaller. They’re not like the older traditional gangs we saw in the early 2000s or the late 90s.”
Rader said that’s because of social media.
“Before, gangs used to be kind of regional,” Rader said.
“It would be based on a neighborhood. Now, with social media, they’ll talk to people across the valley. And that’s how sometimes we see it’s spread out a little bit with the juveniles just because of the footprint they now have in social media.”
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A lot of the kids in the Parkdale program are there because they are already in the juvenile justice system.
“We have kids in here that are active gang members,” Bernal said.
He knows the process not just from work, but from experience.
“I came in here as a volunteer as a young man trying to find my way, trying to figure out what to do with my life,” he said.
When they make mistakes, I don’t want a kid to feel like we’re judging them.Alex Bernal, Parkdale Community Center program supervisor
They come into the program to serve community service hours they need to complete.
Sometimes they just need something to do.
Melvin “Beetle” Ennis launched the program more than 25 years ago. Now he supervises it.
“A lot of young people make a lot of bad decisions, but then should they have to pay for that the rest of their life?,” Beetle said. “We give second and third chances here.”
Ennis mentored Bernal, and now they share their passion to help at-risk kids in their work through Clark County.
“I watched a lot of my friends and family members die to gang violence,” Ennis said, “The other half actually went to prison, and there was only a couple of us that actually made it, and I felt that personally I needed to do the best I could so I can give back and reach back and give them the opportunity.”
“Our job is to put the juvenile system out of business,” Ennis said.
So what can parents do to keep their kids away from the problem?
Get them involved. Another program that serves the valley is the After-School All-Stars, which provides at-risk kids opportunities to participate in all kinds of activities.
Lt. Rader said parents should keep track of their children’s social media accounts.
And check their rooms. Rader said parents often feel uncomfortable doing that because they don’t want to violate their children’s privacy.
But it’s better to do that than to get a call from police, Rader said.
“The safety of students and staff is Clark County School District’s (CCSD) number one priority. The CCSD Police Department works with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) and other law enforcement agencies in the valley to ensure our schools are safe spaces for learning because the safety and well-being of our children is a community matter.
“The collaboration includes working with LVMPD to deter any potential gang activity on school campuses by assigning a CCSD police officer to work full time with LVMPD’s gang unit.
“Additionally, CCSD has taken measures to help ensure our schools are safe including conducting random weapon searches and utilizing four k-9 officers trained to identify firearms.”