Police show ‘gang girls’ a better way

A troubling trend is developing, police say: Girls and young women are becoming more frequently involved in dangerous gang activity.

A recent example occurred in March, when two girls drove a gang member to a rival’s territory, allegedly to tag. The gang member, 17, was confronted by rivals, then shot and killed when a bullet entered the car, police said. In a car seat with the female gang associates was a 3-year-old boy.

The girls escaped without injury, and investigators arrested two juvenile gang members on suspicion of murder.

To combat the growing number of “gang girls,” the Police Department has created a unique program called “Girls Club,” which complements the department’s Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership.

The idea: To identify at-risk girls and show them there’s a better way than the gang lifestyle.

Police work with the school district and identify girls who are exhibiting troubling behavior. The girls meet monthly throughout the school year, and for many of the girls, it’s a final opportunity to change their behavior – or face expulsion.

The girls must regularly attend class, get good grades and avoid any disciplinary issues to remain involved. Female police officers are among the mentors. The officers encourage the girls to speak freely in the sessions and also challenge them to think about the consequences of their associations and decisions.

“Many of the girls just need somebody to believe in them,” said Officer LadyCarla Palomino, one of the mentors.

The most recent session ended earlier this month with 16 graduates. To honor the accomplishment, the Police Department arranged for a day of pampering that included makeovers, hair styling, new clothing and a formal brunch – all donated by community partners.

The girls started at Sephora at South Coast Plaza, which donated stylists’ time and make-up for makeovers. Then they changed into new outfits that were provided by the Orange County Family Justice Center and Forever 21. Finally, the girls, ages 12 to 14, had a formal brunch at the Anaheim Hills Golf Course.

“The goal of most of our youth-focused programs, such as GRIP, Cops4Kids and Girls Club, is to try to break the cycle of gang membership and violence to make Anaheim an even safer place to live and work for the next generation,” said Sgt. Bob Dunn.

This story was published in the Orange County Register.

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