Forum speaker: ‘Don’t let the streets raise your kids’

Published 9:13 pm Wednesday, February 10, 2010

More than 100 North Suffolk residents braved the bad weather Tuesday night to learn how they can take their neighborhoods back from gangs.

A public safety forum at Northern Shores Elementary School brought the community out to learn more about gangs in their area. The Suffolk City Council recently funded a new neighborhood enforcement team for the North Suffolk area because of Police Chief Thomas Bennett’s concerns about gangs in the area.

The two main neighborhoods having gang problems are College Drive and Burbage Grant, Bennett said. The Burbage Grant gang, though it covers a larger area, is not quite as active as the College Drive gang, Bennett said. But added that gangs in the surrounding area are feeding the College Drive gang.

“We’ve got all these areas that are worse than College Drive surrounding College Drive,” Bennett said. Peachtree Apartments in Portsmouth — one of that city’s worst neighborhoods — is “a mile or less from College Drive,” Bennett said.

In addition, neighborhoods in Chesapeake and Newport News are only short trips from College Drive, Bennett said.

Residents were introduced to the new Neighborhood Enforcement Team (NET) dedicated to the northern area of the city. The team uses proactive policing tactics to prevent gang activity, and to seek out and arrest those criminals who are involved in it.

A query that arose during the panel portion of the night asked how to keep children from being involved in gangs.

“Don’t let the streets raise your kids,” said Sgt. James Buie of the Suffolk Police Department. “Spend time with them.”

The residents also got advice on how to start a Neighborhood Watch program in their areas.

“The same social networking sites criminals are using, you can use,” said Senior Police Officer Chris Butler. He referenced sites such as Facebook and MySpace, which can be magnets for gangs planning their next activity — but also can be used for community activism. People who want to start a Neighborhood Watch should call 514-7908 for guidance.

In addition to gang activity, other portions of the program focused on the prevention of thefts from cars, burglaries and rising youth issues such as “sexting” and alcoholic energy drinks.

Suffolk Police Capt. Stephanie Burch told the crowd that sexting is a growing concern among young people. Sexting is the sending of sexually explicit messages or photos by electronic means, usually text message.

Studies show that about half of teenagers have received such a message at least once, Burch said. An additional problem is the messages are often forwarded to people who were not the original recipient, causing embarrassment and possible harassment.

Another concern is the growing popularity of alcoholic energy drinks. In 2006 alone, more than 500 new energy drink products were introduced worldwide. Many of those products contain alcohol — but their containers look nearly identical to non-alcoholic products, causing brand confusion for parents, school officials and law enforcement, Burch said.