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Peninsula delegation to attend Anti-Gang Summit

Posted: Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The threat of gang violence and what to do about it to make communities safer will be the subject of the first-ever regional Anti-Gang Summit meeting in Anchorage on today.

Sponsored by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Tri-Borough Commission representing mayors from the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, among others, the conference will bring together law enforcement officers, elected officials and other experts who work in fields related to youth violence.

It will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Anchorage Downtown Marriott Hotel.

A press release issued by the Municipality of Anchorage said the summit is part of a national campaign by the U.S. Department of Justice to bring federal, state and local partners together in regions across the country to combat youth and gang violence. Participants hope the Anchorage summit will lead to coordinated practical solutions to reduce youth violence and gangs in Southcentral Alaska, focusing on prevention, intervention and prosecution.

Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich said the summit is the latest in a series of steps being taken to combat growing problems in Anchorage communities.

“As cities across the country deal with this issue, we are all focused on finding solutions for getting our young people on the right track and making our cities safer,” he said.

Attending from the peninsula will be Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Donna Peterson.

Peterson said that while peninsula communities do not face the kind of difficulties with street gangs that Anchorage does, peninsula officials do have something to contribute to the dialogue. Kopp could not be reached for comment

Peterson said the peninsula delegation would attend and gather the latest information about gang violence. She said she would be paying special attention to an associated behavior that all communities and schools can face — bullying.

“We want to see what other communities are doing,” she said.

In addition, she said, peninsula officials can bring something unique to the table — a lot of information about gang activities around the state gleaned from conversations with young offenders at the Spring Creek Correctional Center at Seward. There, a youth-offender program working with young people between the ages of 16 and 21 has proved successful and has been filmed by the NBC network program “Lockdown” because of the low recidivism rate among people who have gone through the program, she said.

Beyond that, Peterson said the fact the peninsula has relatively small schools and neighborhoods whose residents demand high standards likely has contributed to the absence of gang problems here.

In fact, she said the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is picking up students from Anchorage and the Mat-Su borough who say they have come looking for safer communities.

Peterson said she would make a report on the anti-gang summit to the mayor soon after returning.

Borough Mayor John Williams will be in Juneau today and is sending his chief of staff, Tim Navarre, in his stead.

Also sending delegates will be public defenders, prosecutors, judges, Alaska State Troopers and community groups such as the Boys and Girls Club, Youth Court, Mountain View Weed and Seed, Boy Scouts of America and Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

Topics are expected to include the history of gang activity in the tri-borough area; how to break the cycle of gangs; prevention and intervention; law enforcement and legal issues related to gangs and youth violence; and enlisting community support.

Hal Spence can be reached at harold.spence@peninsulaclarion.com.



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