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Gang Specialists take on DISD challenges with new technology, partner agencies

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By Charles Scott

It was 4:30 p.m. Quincy Guinyard and 17 of his friends were shooting dice at the Frazier Court Housing Projects in South Dallas. Shouts of excitement rang out from the pack of young males. Then, out of nowhere, in broad daylight, five men with AK47s came from around a corner and began opening fire on them.

“The ground was popping up,” Guinyard said. “The bullets were splatting off the bricks. Like thwap, thwap.”

One of the 17 boys, all of whom were affiliated with a street gang called “The Bloods,” pulled out a pistol, and returned fire. The unknown shooters dropped their weapons and ran.

Guinyard and his friends weren’t hit. But someone else had been.  “That baby…that baby was shot,” he said.

The baby, who’d been in front of a window in a near by building, was hit in the finger during the hail of bullets. This incident, in 1996, made Guinyard question his life in a gang. And yet, more trouble lay ahead for him: He shot and killed a man over a non-gang related dispute. Since he was a juvenile at the time, he did not serve a prison sentence.

Since then, Guinyard’s life has taken a positive turn. He said he found Christ, and today he works in the community alongside the Dallas police and school officials to raise awareness in the community on the dangers of gangs.

In the past, Dallas Police officers could enforce the law on gang members. But nothing was being done to prevent kids like Guinyard from getting pulled into the mayhem in the first place.

Then in 2004, the Dallas Independent School District saw the powerful influence of street gangs on its campuses. During that school year, the Gang Prevention/Intervention Program was created to increase gang awareness and provide educators and parents of DISD with knowledge on the affects of gangs. The program now has three gang specialists that concentrate on gang prevention, intervention and intelligence.

Today, by utilizing current technology, the program has reached a new level of sophistication.

“We’ve become more intelligence driven. We’ve become more strategic where we go. We have to go to where we feel the issues really are at,” Rene Ronquillo, the Program’s director of operations, said. “We keep all of our stats, how many kids we come into contact with, how many parents we come into contact with. We have all this data we now can look at.”

That data allows the gang specialists to begin filling the gap the past left open: By zeroing in on the levels of prevention and intervention, particularly at the 5th and 6th grade levels, they can detect and act upon at-risk behavior in kids before it’s too late.

“We feel what we have here is a pretty unique program that a lot of people don’t know about,” Ronquillo said. “It’s kind of like we’re a one-man army, and we’re on a mission.”

One way of utilizing the data is through Geographic Information System technology, called GIS Mapping, which allows the gang specialists to “look at all the different trends,” Ronquillo said.

GIS Mapping also enables gang specialists like Michael Dovick to keep tabs on where gangs convene, where the gang hotspots are, and where gang members live.
“It’s a visual representation of the incidents,” he said.

Link Analysis is another piece of technology the gang specialists use to identify the relationship between gangs and their members as they transfer between schools and grade levels.

In 2009 Dovick implemented a Graffiti database into the program. Before that point, there wasn’t a system of identifying what the graffiti strewn across Dallas meant, much less the group it came from. Dovick carried out the task of photographing, identifying, sorting and labeling the graffiti. Today, the gang specialists can access over 1,600 pictures of gang graffiti through a searchable computer database, which can also assist other agencies dealing with graffiti problems.

Social media is also playing a role in spotting gang activity.  “For me it’s been monitoring Facebook chatter for an indication of gang membership,” Melissa Manning, another gang specialist, said.

While the use of current technologies helps paint a more visible picture of gang problems for the specialists, they aren’t a means of preventing those problems in the first place.

To do so is to get down to the levels of prevention and intervention, which is a key element of the program’s model. One important aspect about intervention, according to Manning, is that “everything’s dependent upon the particular child.”

“We use our discretion on each student. We make a determination after speaking to them,” she said.

“And that’s why we need partners,” Ronquillo added.

Two of those partners are the Dallas Tattoo Removal Clinic and Fade Fast, both free services which remove gang tattoos from a student’s face or hands if they are 17 years or younger.

Another important partner is the Dallas Police Athletic League. If a child’s problem is fighting, for example, the specialists make referrals to PAL, which offers after school sports programs.

Charlotte McWilliams, another gang specialist, recently dealt with a female middle school student that loved fighting. She referred her to the PAL boxing program, which turned her life around. She said the student now aspires to be a dancer.

“I think it’s a very positive relationship because its another alternative for kids as opposed to incarceration or anything that deals with the judicial system,” said Sgt. Sheldon Smith, executive director of the League. “I get phone calls all the time from parents wanting to get the kids involved in our program.”

Gang symbols that can indicate gang affiliation, courtesy of DISD Gang Specialists brochure

Today Guinyard, now 34, assists in weekly gang intervention and intelligence meetings in a joint effort between DISDs gang specialists, the DPD gang unit and other supporting agencies like the one Guinyard represents, Frazier Court Initiatives.

Guinyard travels to elementary and middle schools where he speaks to students about his story, the dangers of gang life, and how to ultimately avoid it. He also has a U.S. patent for what is called a DOOGUARD, which is a stylish form of a do-rag, and has made a business out of selling them.

McWilliams, who was Guniyard’s first probation officer back in 1996, said he’s gone “door to door, knocking on doors, encouraging parents to get involved” in order to bring his vision of an afterschool program and summer camp for Dallas kids to life.

He “made a heck of a difference,” she said.

But there’s always more work to be done: McWilliams said she recently helped a student who wanted to get out of a gang, but to do so would require him to be “jumped out,” which means that a number of his fellow gang members had to beat him up for a specified amount of time. She said the student was successfully “jumped out.”

Shortly after, though, he rejoined the gang, because those were the only true friends he thought he had.

“Sometimes it happens that way,” McWilliams said. “These kids look around and see themselves all alone.”

The “best thing to understand is a why. Every kid has a why. That’s the core of why they’re seeking out gangs,” she said. “You have to address the why.”

What is a Gang?

Texas Penal Code 71.01 (d): “Criminal street gang” means three or more persons having a common identifying sign or symbol or an identifiable leadership who continuously or regularly associate in the commission of criminal activities.

Working definitions are based on informal and unique personal perspectives that differ from person to person.

Potential warning signs of gang membership:

• Changes to or obsesses over a particular dress style or color, wearing colored shoelaces, bandanas, sagging pants, and/or designer haircuts.

• Sudden change in friends of negative influence.

• Has unexplained cash, goods, clothing, or jewelry.

• Uses hand-signs with friend while at school or home.

• Writes graffiti/markings on body, clothing or school supplies such as folders and backpacks.

• Has increased discipline problems and/or a drop in grades.

Why students join gangs:

Students join gangs for a variety of reasons. The issues and needs that can contribute to gang involvement include, but are not limited to, the following:

• Finding their “identity”

• Attention

• Recognition

• Friendship

• A sense of belonging

• Peer pressure

• Love

• Money

• Protection

• Environment

• Acceptance

• Power

• Intimidation

• Excitement

• Media influence

• Cool/Trendy

• Poor family structure

• Family tradition

Source: DISD Gang Awareness, Prevention, and Intervention Services brochure.

Charles Scott is a junior at SMU majoring in Journalism with a minor in Ethics. He can be reached atclscott@smu.edu

  • Staci

    Well written! I will be sure that the people read this!

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