With the emergence of random graffiti scattered throughout the area, West Laurel Civic Association members met with one of Prince George’s County police gang experts to share tips on how to stem gang insurgence in the community.
Sgt. Michael Rudinski, a school resource officer at Northwest High School in Hyattsville since 1998, met with about 25 area residents Thursday at the West Laurel Civic Association Building.
Melissa Daston, the association president, said she became concerned when she began seeing graffiti on Brooklyn Bridge, the overpass of I-95, and elsewhere in her neighborhood.
“My issue was seeing these signs, growing up in this area you take them seriously,” she said.
While the graffiti Daston described sounded more like “tagging” — the work of a lone graffiti artist rather than gang graffiti as the gangs like to make their identification clearer, Rudinski said gangs are everywhere.
“There are gangs in every school because there are gangs in every community and schools service the communities,” said Rudinski, a school resource officer at Northwest High School in Hyattsville since 1998, who has been educating the public about gangs for the past decade. “The only variable is how administrators are dealing with it.”
There are over 300 gangs operating in Prince George’s County, he said. While most are small, neighborhood-centered gangs, national gangs like the Bloods and Crips have a county presence as well, and MS-13, a gang with ties across 33 states and 13 countries, has an increasing presence in Prince George’s, Rudinski said.
Rudinski said local and county law enforcement maintain a presence in every high school, along with plain-clothes school system security personnel, but said gangs target young people in the fifth or sixth grade and in some cases even earlier.
“We’ve got to start targeting kids earlier and earlier,” said Beth Evans, treasurer for the West Laurel Civic Association.
Evans said once the summer starts, the association hosts “Biking with Beasock” where Cpl. James Beasock leads policemen and area youth on their bikes and they go through the neighborhood.
“It’s to let the kids know the cops are our friend,” Evans said. “Also in September, we had two officers go to Bond Mill Elementary and talk to the kids about bullying. They say gangs start recruiting in middle school so we have to get to them in elementary school. We have to be ahead of the game.”
Despite the county gang numbers, Rudinski said he sees less gang activity now than just two years ago, which he credits to proactive measures taken by school administrators, law enforcement, local governments and community members.
Rudinski said the biggest reason children get caught up in gangs is for protection from bullying by other children.
“If we can stop the bullying, we will stop the majority of gang activity,” he said.
Rudinski urged parents in particular to be aware of changes in behavior or dress, hand signs, tattoos, suspicious friends and school problems, which can all be indicators of gang involvement, and most importantly, to maintain open lines of communication with their children.
“That’s our most precious commodity, our children,” Rudinski said.