New gang task force forming

Diana Sholley, San Gabriel Valley Tribune Staff Writer
Posted: 02/21/2009 05:18:56 PM PST

Until now, battling gangs and drugs on the west end of San Bernardino County has been coordinated from San Bernardino. Starting Monday, that’s changing.

The Ontario Police Department is hosting the inaugural meeting of the West End Gang & Drug Task Force.

“We want everyone to attend. We very much want it to be community response,” said Diana Fox, executive director of Reach Out West End in Upland.

For the past 20 years, the task force has met monthly in the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s office. However, to gain more community support, task force members agreed chapters needed to be established by region.

Last year, the High Desert chapter came about, and now it’s the West End’s turn.

Fox hopes to attract local businesses, nonprofits, churches, schools, organizations, concerned citizens and any other interested entities to join and work together to rid the region of gangs and drugs.

West End task force meetings will be held quarterly. Subcommittees will be formed, given specific projects to work on and encouraged to meet monthly.

Projects will be chosen by task force members using “Best Practices to Address Community Gang Problems,” a publication from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

“They have spent years looking at what works and what doesn’t work,” Fox said. “We will use community involvement and commitment to effectively attack gangs and drugs.”

A staunch supporter of the task force going regional is Kimberly Epps, San Bernardino County probation officer.

“Local partners working together can easily combine ideas and resources,” she said. “We’ve seen it work at the county level.”

Epps explained that in 2005 San Bernardino County received $4 million to implement the G.R.E.A.T program countywide. G.R.E.A.T., the acronym for Gang Resistance Education and Training program, was implemented through the Sheriff’s Department, probation, public defender and the district attorney.

According to its Web site, the G.R.E.A.T. program is a school-based, law enforcement officer-instructed classroom curriculum, with prevention as its primary objective. The G.R.E.A.T. program consists of four components: a 13-session middle school curriculum, an elementary school curriculum, a summer program and training for families.

The G.R.E.A.T. program is in such West End school districts as Fontana, Ontario-Montclair and Chino Valley, Epps said. Establishing a West End task force will help identify other schools that would benefit from the program and allow increased early intervention.

Since 2006, Epps said, 6,930 San Bernardino County students have completed the G.R.E.A.T. program, 460 children have completed the summer program, and 290 families have completed the family program.

“We’ve gotten positive feedback from those who have completed the programs,” said Epps, who has conducted a sample survey. “Eighty percent of those surveyed said they had changed their perception of gangs, and they now know how to seek out help and resources. They also have a more positive view of police.”

Law enforcement reinforces these views by attending such extracurricular activities as career days, open houses and school carnivals.

“We become a part of the school community,” Epps said. “We get to know the kids, and they get to know us.”

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