The territory’s anti-gang committee is hosting the 2012 Caribbean Anti-Gang Conference and Exhibits at the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The first conference took place on St. Thomas in 2009, focusing on gang prevention and building a safer community through outreach, training and education, and branching out to include and aid other Caribbean islands.
A primary aim of the conference is to further establish a network among the islands, linking the various gang task force agencies together.
“We’re creating unity with all our Caribbean nations to combat what we’re seeing and exchange intelligence, build our relationships with intelligence units in policing areas and the community, and educating different islands on gang activity,” said LaVelle Campbell, school safety manager assigned to a V.I. Police Department unit to combat school violence.
The conference will be presented in four tracks: prevention and intervention; investigators and prosecutors; tourism and business; and law enforcement.
Professionals from all over the Caribbean will speak at the conference, offering information on identification and prevention, and on how to best rid the community of gang threats.
Keynote addresses will be in the mornings, followed by concurrent sessions in the afternoon.
According to Jacqueline Freeman, anti-gang committee chairwoman, “It’s a Caribbeanwide problem,” and 13 presenters from other Caribbean islands, as well as five local leaders, are scheduled to speak at the conference.
Freeman said the anti-gang committee sends people like Campbell to other islands to learn about gang activity and to educate them about activity in the territory.
Freeman said they expect the usual groups in attendance, such as law enforcement agencies, educators and counselors, but that this year, the committee also invited the business community.
Freeman said the organization wanted to reiterate businesses’ role in keeping tourists safe.
New groups such as the U.S. Probation Office, U.S. Marshals Service, local security agencies, and agencies from Puerto Rico are also scheduled to participate.
Everyone from parents to government employees is encouraged to get involved, Freeman said, noting that the governor is one of the organization’s biggest supporters.
“We met with him and discussed how we’ve planned the conference and different things that needed to be done to make it a reality,” she said. “We’re reaching out to all stakeholders.”
Campbell assisted in rallying stakeholders from other islands. He’s built relationships in one-on-one training and education on other Caribbean islands, including helping create a gang unit in the British Virgin Islands.
He noted that at a previous conference in St. Kitts and Nevis, he was surprised to find that some countries have laws against gang behavior.
“It’s amazing that some of the islands have bylaws curtailing this behavior, and other places do not,” Campbell said. “It’s the same behavior with guns, drugs and violence.”
According to Freeman, the Criminal Street Gang Prevention Act is currently in front of the legislature. The committee testified before the legislature, asking them to strengthen laws against gangs and gang violence.
The organization was founded in 2009 after a St. Thomas high school student was brutally beaten.