Gang Prevention and Education

Working together with students, families, and community partners to remain at the forefront of preventing gang activity and the influence of gangs

Suspected gang activity in schools should be immediately reported to school administration. 

Suspected gang activity in the community can be reported to the Fairfax County Police Department by calling their non-emergency number 703-691-2131 or by calling 911 in emergencies.

FCPS is teaming up with students, families, and the community to stop young people from joining gangs and getting involved in violent actions.

Families and schools are crucial in guiding young people to make smart and positive choices. It is important to learn about gangs and help your student(s) make good choices to keep them from joining gangs. See below for the steps you can take to stop gangs from influencing our youth.

Parents and Families - What Can You Do to Prevent Gangs?

  • Be actively involved in your children’s school life — attend school functions, keep in contact with teachers, find out about and use school support services (such as guidance counselors, social workers, school resource officers). 
  • Know where your children are at all times and schedule activities to occupy their free time. 
  • Do everything possible to involve children in supervised, positive activities, particularly while you are at work — school clubs, extracurricular activities, after-school academic or cultural enrichment programs. 
  • Make sure you have a plan to communicate and touch base with your child when you are at work and a backup contact if you are unavailable. 
  • Plan family activities — as simple as a meal together, a walk in the neighborhood, a trip to the community center — and insist that your child participate. 
  • Praise your children for doing well and encourage them to do their best. 
  • Teach children to set positive goals, to hold high standards and to prepare for a positive future. 
  • Get to know your children’s friends and their parents. 
  • Set limits for your children and enforce them. 
  • Do not allow your children to dress in gang-style clothing, to practice gang hand signs or write gang graffiti on any surface, including their bodies. 
  • Explain to your child that a very small percentage of youth join gangs. 
  • Make sure your children understand that you are against gangs. Communicate openly with them about gangs. Read articles to them and discuss the consequences of being part of a gang. 
  • Be a positive role model. 

Schools - What Can You Do to Prevent Gangs?

  • Ensure that gang awareness and drug prevention are part of the curricula and present these programs to parents. 
  • Identify at-risk students and students who are already gang members. 
  • Work with Student Safety and Wellness Office, Hearings Office, parents, counselors and other school personnel to determine when intervention is necessary. 
  • Encourage students to participate in sports, drama, music, art and other positive activities that will increase their confidence and sense of belonging. 
  • Photograph and remove all graffiti from school grounds and property. 
  • Promote after-school programs that address prevention of violence. 

What To Do if You Suspect Gang Activity or See Graffiti

Suspected gang activity in schools should be immediately reported to school administration. Suspected gang activity in the community can be reported to the Fairfax County Police Department by calling 911 in emergency situations. For non-emergency situation, please call 703-691-2131, TTY 7111. School administration should be immediately notified of any graffiti on school grounds.  For graffiti in the community, please call the Fairfax County Police Department non-emergency number at 703-691-2131.

What Is a Gang?

A gang is a group of two or more persons, whether formal or informal, and however identified, which individually or collectively engage in activities that are illegal, destructive, disruptive, or intimidating. Such does include, but is not limited to a criminal street gang. The group may, but need not necessarily, have an identifiable name, sign, symbol, or colors.

Gang Identifiers

The simple presence of fashion or symbols associated with gang participation is not enough to determine gang membership.  However, it may warrant further investigation or discussion with the individual. 

Traditionally, gang involvement may be shown through various means, including clothing and jewelry. This has included the deliberate display of certain color combinations or symbols, which may carry special significance to gang members that isn’t immediately obvious to a casual observer. Sometimes pre-existing symbols, such as a professional sports team logo or even religious symbols, may be used. These indicators generally change, and may be adopted as fashion by non-gang members.   

Tattoos and hand signs are used by many gangs. Tattoos may be more common with some gangs than others. Hand signs may change. 

Why Kids Join Gangs

Among the leading reasons given by kids involved with gangs, either as members or gang associates, is a desire to be loved, accepted or to be part of a group. That is what gang members commonly promise when they are recruiting. 

Additional reasons that kids join gangs include:

Reasons Kids Join Gangs

  • Fun and excitement - Gang members, recruiters, and the media glamorize the gang lifestyle. 
  • Identity and a sense of belonging - Gangs may offer a sense of identity to their members and a way to gain attention or status. Kids who do not have strong ties to their families, communities, schools, or places of worship may turn to gangs for companionship and as a substitute family. 
  • Peer pressure - If friends or family members are in a gang, kids may be pressured to join a gang. 
  • Financial gain - Being in a gang is often seen as a way to obtain money or possessions. 
  • Failure to realize what being in a gang means - Kids often do not fully understand the danger, risks, and legal problems associated with being in a gang. 
  • Protection - In neighborhoods and areas where gangs are present, kids sometimes feel, or are told, that belonging to a gang will protect from other gangs. 

Who Joins Gangs

Gang members generally range in age from 13 to 24, but can be as young as nine. Gangs can include all ethnic groups. Many gang members are boys, but 10 percent of all gang members are girls and the number is growing.

There are several risk factors or conditions that increase the likelihood of a youth becoming involved with a gang. 

Risk Factors for Gang Involvement

  • Lack of connection with family, community, schools, faith-based organizations. 
  • Living in an area with a high level of gang activity. 
  • Lack of a positive support system at home. 
  • Violence against family members. 
  • Exposure to TV shows, movies, video games and music that glorify violence. 
  • Lack of participation in alternative activities, such as community, school or faith-based youth programs. 
  • Low self-esteem and or a sense of hopelessness about the future. 
  • Poor decision-making and communication skills. 
  • Too much unsupervised free time. 
  • Lack of respect for authority (parents, teachers, law enforcement officers). 
  • Alcohol or other drug use. 

Warning Signs Often Associated with Gang Involvement

There are a number of signs that may indicate involvement with a gang or risky or delinquent behavior. The sooner concerns are responded to, the greater the opportunity to prevent a child from joining a gang. Discuss concerns with a trusted friend or a professional such as a guidance counselor, police officer, member of the clergy or human service professionals in the community. 

Keep in mind, kids who pretend to be gang members or just associate with gang members are at equal or greater risk for being victims of violence as are those who are known gang members. 

Signs Associated With Gang Involvement

  • Withdrawing from family activities. 
  • Suddenly changing friends and spending time with undesirable people. 
  • Developing a bad attitude toward family, school and authorities. 
  • Suddenly dropping in school grades. 
  • Staying out later than usual. 
  • Wanting excessive privacy. 
  • Using a new nickname. 
  • Using hand signs. 
  • Using unfamiliar slang words. 
  • Purchasing or wanting to buy or wear clothing of all one color or style. 
  • Modifying clothing to indicate membership in a special group. 
  • Changing appearance with special haircuts, eyebrow markings or tattoos. 
  • Suddenly having more money or possessions. 
  • Using gang graffiti on folders, desks, walls and buildings. 
  • Displaying evidence of dDrug or alcohol use. 
  • Carrying objects that can be used as weapons. 

Getting Out of Gangs

It is possible to get out of a gang and many individuals do. However, the deeper or more involved someone is with a gang, the more difficult it is to get out. 

Getting out of a gang takes time. A gang member may never verbally denounce gang membership, but can effectively discontinue his/her level of activity within the gang. Talk to a parent, school counselor, police officer, member of the clergy or other professionals about safe options, which can include:

Safe Options for Getting Out of Gangs

  • Fading away by gradually becoming less active in a gang. This is the typical method for discontinuing participation in illegal gang activity.  
  • Creating distance by being less available for gang activities because of a job, participation in supervised and organized recreational programs, and volunteering. 
  • Relocating the entire family to a community that does not have heavy gang activity, so that all ties to the gang can be cut. This may be necessary in extreme cases.