Experts helping military promote gang awareness
Stars and Stripes March 14, 2008
WEINHEIM, Germany — Around noon on Jan. 31, a gang of three Wiesbaden High School boys mobbed a fellow student at a gazebo near the school grounds and beat him senseless.
The victim, who suffered a broken nose, a concussion and facial bruises, was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. His attackers were all expelled from school for aggravated assault.
But Wiesbaden High Principal Eric Goldman isn’t calling it a gang-related incident. There is a fair amount of “gang fascination” among some students, he said, but gangs in the school? He doesn’t think so.
Detective John Bowman, head gang investigator with the Killeen, Texas, Police Department, might take issue with that opinion.
“Does it sound gangish? It sounds gangish,” he said.
Bowman, one of two gang experts lecturing at a two-day Installation Management Agency Command-Europe gang awareness conference Thursday, said that where he comes from, such a beating could be prosecuted as a gang crime.
Stars and Stripes was permitted to speak with Bowman and other conference presenters and attendees. However, the press was not allowed into conference sessions because of fears that attendees wouldn’t speak openly about problems in their garrisons if there was a chance that raising concerns could draw a backlash from military authorities.
“I want the people in the class to feel free to speak without fear of retribution,” Bowman said. He added he was also concerned that publishing law enforcement tactics used to identify gangs could dilute their effectiveness.
But keeping secrets wasn’t the point of the conference, he and others at the conference said.
Bowman, who works frequently with the military on gang-related issues, and Paul Mohler, who works juvenile crime intervention for the Texas State Attorney General’s office, are teaching attendees how to identify gangs and keep kids out of them.
Reports of gang-related activities in Stars and Stripes and anti-gang commercials running on American Forces Network indicate that “something is going on here, so we knew that we needed to educate our youth development folks as far as gangs are concerned,” said Susanna Flint, a program manager for the Center of Expertise for Youth Programs, part of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command.
To both Bowman and Mohler, she’s right.
“Well, I can tell you that posts all over the United States are experiencing the same phenomena that I am” in Killeen, Bowman said. Gang activity is “on the rise and it’s becoming stronger and stronger.”
He doesn’t blame the military for the trend; gangs are following the military, he said.
Among the hottest jobs for gang members to get are high-wage menial positions as contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. “They’re getting paid major money for that … and then they come back and they put that money into either dope or guns or both, and then spread the wealth,” he said.
And, Mohler said, while being stationed in Europe may have acted as a barrier to gang influence on kids 20 years ago, it’s not anymore.
“It’s a click away on the Internet,” Mohler said.
Technology has given kids a means to figure out how to be gangsters.
“We have to be able to show them why not to be,” Bowman said.