Tuesday, April 8, 2003

N.Ky. cops get lowdown on suburban youth gangs

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FLORENCE - When a Northern Kentucky law enforcement official hears the word "gang," the officer shouldn't think it's only an inner-city problem.That was the first point law enforcement consultant Cindy Mason of Denver wanted Northern Kentucky police officers to learn during her day-long seminar Monday in Florence.

During the Responding to Suburban Youth Seminar, 20 officials learned how to spot and monitor gang activity along with an overview of Kentucky's illegal drug problem.

During the opening hour of the presentation, hosted by Florence police, Mason presented a slideshow profiling suburban gang members across the country.

"Suburban children don't say they are in a gang," Mason said, adding that youths realize the word carried a negative connotation. "Suburban youths prefer calling their gang a club, team, crew or krew, movement, cause and even a group of individuals with like minds."

Suburban gangs differ from traditional gangs in several factors, Mason said. They are not territorial, they are not "in for life," and they are generally not poor.

"They are from middle- to upper-class families," Mason said. "They are the type of kid who have parents who call them angels."

She said suburban gang members often say they suffer from "emotional poverty" and not from a lack of money. She said they share a heavy feeling of entitlement, often feeling they have been victimized by a lack of emotional support.

A film called Better Luck Tomorrow, being released for a national theater run Friday after acclaim at the Sundance and Toronto film festivals, tells the story of such a group of suburban youths. Director Justin Lin sets his tale in Pasadena, Calif., and his gang leader is, in addition to the main force behind crime, drugs and sex, headed for the Ivy League.

Mason also presented the audience, made up primarily of law enforcement officials, with a statistical outline of where Kentucky stood on the war with drugs.

The production, distribution and abuse of illicit drugs pose a serious threat to Kentucky, Mason said. Most illicit drugs are readily available in the state, and the number of drug-related arrests, seizures and treatment admissions has increased dramatically.

She said methamphetamine is the most rapidly emerging threat to Kentucky, particularly in the rural areas of the state. The number of treatment admissions for methamphetamine abuse in Kentucky increased 42 percent from fiscal year 1998 through fiscal year 2000, more than for any other drug.

In the metropolitan areas of Kentucky, both the powdered and crack forms of cocaine pose the greatest threat, she said. The number of treatment admissions for powder cocaine in the state fluctuated at high levels from fiscal year 1998 through fiscal year 2000, while the number of admissions for crack increased 31 percent.

But marijuana remains the foremost cash crop in the state, according to her statistics. Nearly 50 percent of all drug treatment admissions in Kentucky from fiscal year 1998 through fiscal year 2000 were marijuana related - more than for any other drug. That represents a 27 percent increase.

Kentucky ranked among the top three states in the nation for the number of cannabis plants eradicated each year from 1998 through 2000. In 2000, more than 460,000 cannabis plants were eradicated in Kentucky, ranking it third behind California and Hawaii.

E-mail jhannah@enquirer.com

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