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Bremerton High faces gang problem

Since the early 1990s, Bremerton High School has harbored an on-again, off-again problem with gang activity, according to Police Chief Rob Forbes.

Typical gang behavior includes “assaults, intimidation, possession of weapons, occasional possession of narcotics and controlled substances,” he said.

It can also include wearing certain colors and operating under a group name, as typified by the infamous, California-born Crips and Bloods.

Some gangs initiate their members by pummeling them with punches and kicks to see if they can withstand it and still show allegiance.

Thirteen years ago, the gang problem became increasingly visible at the high school and a special police unit was dispatched to fight it off, Forbes said. Many of the gang members were vandalizing and causing violence in the community as well.

“The problems we are seeing now are not at that level,” Forbes said, although he does say they are increasing.

One of the ways to discourage gang activity is for a police officer to make a connection with one of the members, and break down the group from the inside out, he said.

Having a consistent police presence in the school is a primary way of doing that.

Additionally, by making friends with students, the officer can generate informants. He can stop crime before it is about to happen.

Since Bremerton Police Department (BPD) placed an officer inside the high school in September 1996, officers have been able to break up both gang problems and other student crimes, Forbes said.

On Tuesday, Bremerton’s Fiscal and Budget Committee, which is headed by City Council Member Eric Younger, approved a $125,000 grant application from the BPD to the U.S. Department of Justice to install another officer that can roam between the elementary schools, as well as the junior and senior highs in the district.

If the grant is awarded, the Bremerton School District has verbally committed to pay for half of the matching fund amount of $48,112 over a three-year period.

The police department will fund the rest through its overtime pay fund.

Before the new officer enters the schools, he or she will attend a week-long training session.

Besides the BPD’s attempt to thwart gang activity, the school district has done their part as well.

“We have a flexible dress code that gives the administration the ability to keep out any gang apparel that people might use,” said Joan Dingfield, community services coordinator.

“Back in the early 1990s, the school district got very aggressive about not allowing gang activity,” Dingfield said.

“The other things schools can really do is keep kids in school and attached to school. We have homework clubs, we have ways for kids to make up credits.” If students are engaged in school they are less inclined to participate in gang activity, she said.

Forbes noted that over the six years an officer has worked for the school district, their role has changed drastically.

“They become basically a counselor. It is a great deal for the kids,” he said.

Added Council member Daren Nygren, “It makes it so it is not such an adversarial role.”

Plus, with a cop dedicated to the school, other police resources are not wasted.

“This year there were 4,300 calls in the Bremerton School District,” Forbes said.

By sending officers to cover those calls, other calls may not be handled as efficiently.

Nowadays, the current cop in the school — otherwise known as the school resource officer — speaks to classes about positive solutions to problems they face. He builds rapport with students exhibiting disciplinary problems.

“He is also a liaison between the law enforcement and the family,” Forbes said.

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