With budget cuts reducing our staff, the Ukiah Police Department (UPD) may not have enough officers to address every single complaint we receive, but one priority we will continue to support is educating kids to keep them out of gangs and the violent life that often accompanies gang membership.
Thanks to strict enforcement, education, and prevention activities, the good news is that UPD has reduced violent crimes by 45 percent during the last 5 years. However, without constant vigilance, this could change.
One of our best partners in the effort to educate youth and prevent them from becoming gang members has been Redwood Children’s Services, Inc. with their Gang Resistance is Paramount (GRIP) program. In the fall, GRIP will begin its ninth year of instruction in Ukiah Unified School District (UUSD) classrooms.
In early 2004, the UUSD School Board approved the GRIP curriculum for all fifth grade classrooms as a primary prevention strategy. The program was adopted in Fort Bragg, Anderson Valley, and Willits in 2007-2008, and then in Laytonville and Covelo in 2009-10.
GRIP is the only school-based curriculum that consistently addresses issues of gang prevention, drug and alcohol use, peer pressure, and bullying. The curriculum consists of 14 lessons and is designed to be equal parts lecture, student discussion, interactive activities, and video excerpts, using many learning modalities. Fifth graders are taught about peer pressure and bullying, drugs, alcohol, self-esteem, family, crime, gangs and territory, and gangs and vandalism. At the end of the program all students receive a GRIP t-shirt and a certificate with their name on it.
GRIP has reached approximately 3,000 UUSD students -- this means that nearly all students currently in UUSD middle schools have experienced the GRIP curriculum.
Middle school administrators and UPD officers report that even though there is still fighting on middle school campuses, large-scale fights that occurred before GRIP are not as common. Data released from our local probation department and juvenile hall show a trend of fewer youth being arrested for gang-related activities during this same time period.
The objectives of the GRIP curriculum are to educate students about the dangers of gangs, discourage youth from joining gangs, educate parents about the signs of gang involvement, and provide parents with resources to help them eliminate gang activities in their homes and neighborhoods.
The program recently added additional support groups to two Ukiah elementary schools to provide additional services to students identified as high risk for gang involvement and other delinquent behaviors. These support groups provide students with long-term tools for anger management, conflict resolution, communication skills, and bullying prevention while also providing a link for youth to other community-based services.
Delivery of the GRIP curriculum in Mendocino County is a collaborative effort of schools, parents, county government, nonprofit organizations, and law enforcement agencies. In Ukiah, GRIP has received financial support from UPD, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, and the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office.
As parents, many of us struggle with our pre-teen and teen children. The relationship becomes strained and it might be tempting to disengage. Your influence now can change the course of your child’s life. Here are warning signs that your child may be involved in gang activity. Your child:
• Admits to hanging out with kids in gangs
• Shows unusual interest in one or two particular colors of clothing or a particular logo
• Has unusual interest in gangster-influenced music, video, movies, or websites
• Uses unusual hand signals to communicate with friends
• Has specific drawings or gang symbols on school books, clothes, walls, or tattoos
• Comes home with unexplained physical injuries (fighting-related bruises on hands or knuckles)
• Has unexplained cash or goods, such as clothing or jewelry
Anyone who knows (or has been) a pre-teen or young teenager knows that these years are an extremely impressionable time. Young people want to fit in with their peers, and as a result, they can make choices that follow them for the rest of their school years and into adulthood.
Young people who excel at academics, are socially adept, engage in activities they enjoy, and have the support of family and friends can often handle the pressures of middle school.
However, those who struggle in school, are socially awkward, and have trouble developing healthy relationships sometimes look to drugs and other dangerous activities to escape, or to be included and accepted. Joining a gang can seem very appealing.
As parents, the best way to help kids stay away from gangs is to share the dangers of gang involvement and to provide appealing alternatives. This is also true for us as community members. Pay attention to dramatic changes and ask questions so you can help local youth make positive choices.
As many services that address the social needs of students in schools are being reduced due to state and federal budget cuts, it becomes even more important to preserve the programs that we have in our community. If you are interested to learn more about how you can support the GRIP program please contact Redwood Children’s Services, Inc., or UPD
As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have any suggestions or comments about how we can improve, please feel free to call me, complete our online survey, or leave a crime tip on our website: www.ukiahpolice.com.