Experts: Admitting problem must precede addressing it
Having the military admit it has a gang problem is a tall order, according to Scott Barfield, a former Department of Defense investigator in Fort Lewis, Wash.
“If they admit there are gangbangers in the military, less parents are going to be apt to want their kids to go in because of fear of gang members being in their unit,” he said.
Avoiding denial of gang dynamics is one proactive response military leaders can take to address gangs, according to a 2006 presentation by Kenneth Ferguson Kelly, a former Army military police investigator in Germany.
The presentation lists other proactive steps such as educating leaders and organization members of the consequences for gang participation, considering involuntary separation of violators, and initiating Uniform Code of Military Justice actions for violations of military law.
Lawrence Stone, a former member of the Los Angeles Bloods who now runs anti-gang programs in the Seattle area, said the outreach programs he has seen in the military are too generalized to help individual gang members turn their lives around.
“They treat all races and gangs the same. I’ve worked with everyone from skinheads to the Mexican mafia, but your approach needs to be different,” he said.
Stone, who tours the country giving lectures about gangs in his “Big Homie Program,” said he’d like to become more involved at military bases, but so far has received a lukewarm response.
Defense Department spokesman Maj. Stewart Upton said military police and service officials already are working with a number of anti-gang groups, as well as law enforcement personnel, to combat the problem.
Lt. Col. Dan Williams, a spokesman for Fort Lewis, said officials there have not worked with Stone but are collaborating with a number of community groups on gang awareness and prevention, and are pleased so far with their success.
“The Army tries to say there’s no problem. And it’s not rampant,” he said. “I don’t think gang members are taking over the military …. but it is on an increase, and it’s growing faster.”
In its 2006 gang activity report, the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command suggests multi-agency task forces and joint community groups as “an effective way to combat the problem.”
But it warns of difficulties.
“Decreases in funding and staffing to many task forces have created new challenges for civilian communities,” the report said. “Limitations placed on funding for authorized criminal intelligence and joint terrorism task force spaces have had a similar effect on CID.”
The same wording was in the 2005 CID report.