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Officers learn GREAT way to fight gangs

By Ed Brock

Some of Clayton County and Riverdale's student resource police officers have learned a GREAT way to fight gangs in the county's schools.

On Friday those 21 SROs received their certificate for completing 80 hours of training in the Gang Resistance Education and Training program. Now those officers will go back to their schools to teach a 13-class curriculum in an attempt to change the mindset of students who may otherwise make some bad decisions.

"What you have done for the community is created a program that will prevent young people from getting involved in gangs, drugs and crime," said Dan Richmond, the supervisor of the seminar.

The implementation of the program is a response to the rise in youth violence that has been ongoing in the county, Clayton County Assistant Police Chief Jeff Turner said.

Last year two high school students, 14-year-old Forest Park High School freshman Krystal Williams and 18-year-old Mundy's Mill High School Senior Larry Bishop, Jr. were killed in separate incidents.

"At this point (Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, Police Chief Darrell Partain and Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Pulliam) decided we needed to do something proactive," Turner said.

Richmond is an officer with the Philadelphia Housing Authority Police Department. The other team leaders in the seminar were Roger Barnes, retired from the police department in La Crosse, Wis., Diane Lanning with the Chicago Police Department, Matt Kennedy with the Columbus Police Department and Elmira Williams with the Philadelphia Police Department.

All of them were brought down by Vanessa L. McLemore, special agent in charge for Atlanta Field Division of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Riverdale Police Chief Thetus Knox, who attended Friday's ceremony at the Clayton County Police/911/Emergency Operations Center on McDonough Street in Jonesboro, said she and other members of the newly-formed Clayton County Gang Task Force discussed the need for the GREAT program with McLemore. The ATF is also participating in the task force.

"It usually takes a long time to pull together, but (McLemore) called Philadelphia and said this has to happen this summer," Knox said. "She made it happen."

McLemore addressed the officers, imploring them to serve as role models for the school children of the county, to pull them away from the despair that leads to gang activity.

"You have just learned the skills and the talents to carry you a long way toward carrying our children a long way," McLemore said. "When children don't have that role model, they tend to go the wrong way."

Riverdale Police Sgt. Terry Hargett is one of the graduates of the program.

"The one thing I really learned is that we can start reaching the younger generation," Hargett said.

Previously he thought intervention was only necessary with high school students, but now he realizes that older children are often set in their negative patterns, Hargett said. He plans to begin the GREAT program with children in the fifth-grade and up.

The GREAT program is a continuation of what many SROs were trying to do before, Clayton County Police Officer Daryl Childs said.

"We tried to reach out to the students before, but this gives us a curriculum," Childs said.

For more information on the GREAT program go to www.great-online.org or call (800) 726-7070.