04/11/2006

Mass. police seek grant to combat gangs

By Scott J. Croteau
Telegram & Gazette Staff
Copyright 2006 Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

WORCESTER, Mass.- The Police Department has mapped an attack on gang violence in the city that hinges on a state grant.

Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said the department is asking the state Executive Office of Public Safety for a share of money from its Community Safety Initiative. The purpose of the program is to "support regional and multidisciplinary approaches to combat gang violence through coordinated programs for prevention and intervention," according to the EOPS.

Chief Gemme is looking for $700,000 in grant money to support the programs that will concentrate on helping young men stay away from gang violence.
"The best part about it is we are talking about local young adults who are part of this community," the chief said. "We have an opportunity to provide them with employment, opportunity and hope."

There are 23 gangs with roughly about 800 to 1,000 members in the city, according to police.

Shootings have jumped from 18 in 2001 to 36 in 2005, Chief Gemme said. From 2004 to 2005 there were 70 shooting victims and 18 homicides, 12 of which were by firearm, he said.

Dealing with gangs and guns has been a top priority of the chief. He noted that over the past few years the community has been asking for programs to deal with gangs and the need for abuse programs for city residents.

Chief Gemme plans to use the state grant to expand a summer camp that deals with youth and helps create gang awareness. The camp usually has 50 children from ages 10 to 13 attending, but the plan is to expand the camp to three sessions of 50 during the summer.

He also plans to bring back gang talks for sixth-graders in city schools. Lack of funding ended the program a couple of years ago, but the talks are vital in teaching children the skills to resist becoming involved in a gang, Chief Gemme said.

The final portion would include two programs that target those associated with gangs and are either in jail or on probation. Project Nightlight would be modeled after a program Boston had in the 1990s, Chief Gemme said.

Gang unit officers would work with the Worcester County Probation Department to do home visits with people on probation to let them know their behavior is being monitored and that their probation is being taken seriously, he said.

A team of officials from those organizations would meet with Worcester men just prior to their release from the Worcester County House of Correction, Chief Gemme said. The team would talk to the men about the consequences of re-offending and also talk to them about job opportunities, he said.

Those willing and qualified will be referred to a city job program. Chief Gemme said the new program works directly with the Worcester Community Action Council. As part of the interview with the men, the team will also identify services the men need, such as drug counseling or alcohol treatment, the chief said.

"The alternative to this is to go back out on the street where there is no job and a higher probability of re-offending or returning to gangs," Chief Gemme said. Most of the men served by this part of the program will be city men ages 17 to 24.

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