Community meeting about gangs leave some parents uneasy

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:58

    CENTRAL VALLEY-The Monroe-Woodbury School District and the Monroe Police Department wants you to know about gangs. But after a heated community meeting this week, some community members and parents wondered if the concern was warranted. The discussion Tuesday night at Monroe-Woodbury High School was led by Monroe Det. Rob Compasso, Michael Fitzula, the school district's director of health safety and security, and other high school officials. And during the session, school and police officials repeatedly stated "that there is absolutely no gang problem in Monroe." The presentation was intended to be educational. It included a graphic video of gang beatings, initiations and other gruesome footage which featured gang violence in other parts of the country. But there seemed to be two messages - there are no gangs here and that gangs are dangerous. Some parents said they could not understand why the meeting was being called in a town that does not have and does not want such problems. The meeting left a number of parents like Joe Simone uneasy. "It's not prevalent, not here, we should be concerned about the Newburghs and Middletowns for our children," said Simone, a father of two from Monroe. Compasso and Fitzula said the primary purpose of the meeting was to make the community aware of what the future could bring. But audience members kept returning to a single question: "Is there a gang problem here in Monroe?" "No," replied Compasso and Fitzula. "What gangs have been found operating in the Monroe area?" asked a father from the other side of the room. "There were two cases I can remember over the years, and those two are no longer in this school," Fitzula said. "One was with a small local gang in Warwick and the other had possible ties to the Bloods." One mother, whom inquired numerous times during the night, asked, "But what do I do to keep my kids out of these groups? What do you suggest I do? You keep talking about sportswear, (as possible gang symbols) my kid wears sportswear all the time, what does that mean, what should I be looking out for?" A father, who sat in the front, also asked several questions, including: "I try and make sure not to let my kids hang out by the Lowe's store by the Galleria (in Middletown) on the weekends because I see a lot of gang members hanging out there. But I don't see that here." The question-answer part of the nearly two-hour meeting became so heated that it was abruptly ended by Compasso while many parent's hands were still up waiting to be called on to ask a question. Simone, who did have a chance to ask a question, said in a subsequent interview that he wanted to know how he can prevent his seventh-grade daughter who attends the Monroe-Woodbury Junior High School and his son who attends North Main Elementary from getting involved or harassed by the gang members. "They rather tell us what not to do, instead of what to do," he said. "They (school district) have to create an environment for the children to go to. "Parents have to get involved," he added. "When every parent is here, there won't be any more problems." "What are they doing proactively?" he added. "I'm not going to go home tonight and have the best sleep. A lot of people were uncomfortable this evening. I didn't see much levity here today." In an interview afterwards, Compasso said: "Just because we don't have gangs, doesn't mean we can't show them to people. We are just preparing, informing and training. It doesn't mean it's definitely going to