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Officials encourage stricter hat policy

Anti-Gang Task Force looks into ways to curb gang recruitment and promote safety

Posted: January 17, 2010 10:06 p.m.
Updated: January 18, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

As gang activity at local high schools increases, the city's Anti-Gang Task Force hopes the junior high and high school district will strengthen its hat policy to stop gang recruitment and promote student safety.

"Hats are huge with the kids right now," said Detective Dan Finn of the SCV Sheriff's Station. "They're also a big part of gang attire and gang recognition."

Gangs members wear sports teams hats that have the same initials as their gangs, Finn said.

"It enables them to recognize each other on the campuses and out on the streets," Finn said.

It's also a way to recruit students for gangs, putting other students in danger, he said.

The new trend has prompted members of the task force, which includes officials from the city, sheriff's station and school districts, hope the Hart district will consider issuing a policy where students only wear school hats.

Along with cutting down gang efforts on within William S. Hart Union High School District schools, the move would allow school officials to spot people who don't attend the school and even increase school spirit, Finn said.

An increasing trend
Finn estimates that there are about six active organized criminal street gangs in the Santa Clarita Valley.

"We also have a number of up and coming tagging crews," he said.

Criminal street gangs perform illegal acts and create an atmosphere of fear. Tagging crews typically commit acts of vandalism.

Many local gangs started as tagging crews, Finn said.

The trend for gang members to wear hats has been increasing, especially since the end of the last school year, Finn said.

"It is becoming more significant so we're doing it as a proactive measure, not as a reactive measure," Finn said.

Rich Wheeler, LAPD gang detective of the North Hollywood division, said the hat trend among gang members has become standard throughout Southern California and even in states outside of California.

Years ago, gangs used sports jerseys to identify themselves, Finn said. However, the problem was that it was tougher to hide a jersey when deputies patrolled, he said.

Hats are more easy to take off, which makes it harder for deputies to identify gang activity, Finn said.

The policy
Each school's principal is able to set the hat policy for the school, said Greg Lee, the district's diversity coordinator.

However, there is a district-wide policy that bans students from wearing gang-affiliated clothing or clothing that causes a disruption in the school process, Lee said.

The topic of dress code will be discussed with principals during meetings throughout the semester, Lee said.

The school hat-only policy is already in effect at West Ranch High School.

Principal Bob Vincent initiated the rule in 2004 when the Stevenson Ranch high school first opened.

Students purchase the hats from the student store. The school does not make any money off the hats, he said.

He issued the policy as a way to stop outside people from entering the school campus.

With a student population of about 2,750, Vincent said it was difficult to keep an eye out for outsiders.

"We wanted to make sure this was going to be a safe place," he said.

It's a hope Gloria Mercado-Fortine, who is a member of the task force's steering committee, has for other schools.

"What I'd like to accomplish is to ensure safety on all campuses," she said.

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