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Friday, March 10, 2017

Supervisor Gross to host Town Hall on Gangs

Graffiti is a sign of gang activity, although it's not known whether this particular example in Annandale is gang related. 
Mason Supervisor Penny Gross is hosting a Town Hall on Gangs March 29, 7 p.m., at the Mason Government Center.

“We need to get gang activity under control,” Gross said. Many residents have been expressing concerns about the rise in gang activity after the discovery of two bodies in Holmes Run Stream Valley Park on March 2.

“That was a terribly tragic, sad situation,” said Gross during her Budget Town Hall on March 9. “That is the catalyst for the meeting but that won’t be discussed.”

Police haven’t released information on the identity of the victims, how they were killed, or whether the murders occurred in the park or the bodies were dumped there. Last May, members of MS-13 were convicted of murdering two people in Holmes Run Stream Valley Park.

The town hall is expected to focus on how the community can be alert to gang activity and how parents can ensure their children aren’t recruited into gangs. Representatives from the police department, school system, county agencies, and nonprofit organizations are expected to speak.

Gang activity is on the rise. There have been at least five-gang related homicides across the Washington, D.C., region since last fall, the Fairfax County Police Department reports, “gangs are actively and successfully recruiting new members, especially in middle school.”

“Gang activity in Fairfax County isn’t just a law enforcement issue,” says Ed Ryan, gang prevention coordinator with the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force. “It’s an issue that anyone who lives and works in the county should feel obligated to do their part to try and address.”

“That could be reporting suspicious activity or alerting the authorities if you see graffiti,” Ryan says. “That also means parents incorporating the topic into talks with their children so kids are prepared and aware that negative influences like gangs exist, the same way drugs, weapons, and bullies do.” To report suspicious activity to the task force, call 866-NO-GANGS (866-664-2647).

Gang members generally range in age from 13 to 24, but can be as young as 9, and can include all ethnic groups. The number of girls in gangs, now at about 10 percent, is growing.

According to the task force, kids get involved with gangs because they want to be loved, accepted, or part of a group. They also seek excitement, a sense of identity, financial gain, or protection. Peer pressure is major factor, too.

The task force urges parents to be alert to signs of gang involvement and risky behavior – and respond quickly by discussing concerns with a counselor, member of the clergy, or human services professional.

These are some of the warning signs:
  • withdrawing from family activities.
  • suddenly changing friends and spending time with undesirable people.
  • social media posts with signs of teens falling prey to gang recruitment.
  • a bad attitude toward family, school and authorities.
  • sudden drop in school grades.
  • staying out later than usual.
  • wanting excessive privacy.
  • using a new nickname, hand signs, or unfamiliar slang words.
  • wearing clothing of all one color or style or modifying clothing to indicate membership in a special group.
  • changing their appearance with special haircuts, eyebrow markings, or tattoos.
  • suddenly having more money or possessions.
  • using gang graffiti on folders, desks, walls, and buildings.
  • drug or alcohol use.
  • carrying objects that can be used as weapons.


  1. There is nothing Penny or the police can do, this is a symptom of blight, economic decline and a multitude of immigrants that are living in boarding houses that do not know our laws or respect our culture. This is a District in a severe downward spiral. This will be Penny Gross's and Sharon Bulova's memorable legacy.

    This is why crime is on the rise, gangs are proliferating, neighborhood streets are filthy and getting crowded w strange cars. This is why development is not occurring here. In my own experience, I have multiple dwellers living in the house next door to me. These horrible people literally throw their garbage from their cars onto the property they are residing in and my property as well. Empty food containers and water bottles all over the place. And code compliance is so neutered by the County Attorneys and a complacent BoS that these kind of problems cannot be resolved.

    Nothing that Penny Gross can say in this meeting would give me confidence that leadership has this gang situation under control when they don't know or understand how to manage some of the contributing causes. Every resident in Mason is witnessing an urban transformation but not in a good way, like in Arlington or Merrifield. What is happening in Mason is nothing less than the slumming results of a disengaged County government with misplaced priorities. Another words these problems and solutions are way out of their toolkit.

    1. You must have meant card? You think this post is odd or are you inebriated? You must like the fake news that the Mason leadership dishes out?

    2. 9:36,

      I like how you list all these problems (which I agree are serious), but slip out the back door in your last paragraph.

      I understand your frustration and disappointment, but I have to point out that at that moment, your comment changes its tone dramatically. All your energy went from: "I am passionate about these problems, I understand them very well, and can expound on them very clearly" to: "but there's nothing that can be done, so I'm just going to complain." You have every right to do that, but be aware that at least here, you sound like someone who could be a part of some positive change--heck, you even sound like someone who could inspire and perhaps even lead others!

    3. I do not take 9:36's tone to be complaining, but rather lamenting. As someone who has repeatedly tried to get the county to enforce the laws and codes that are on the books, only to see them allow these serious problems to continue, I can understand 9:36's posting. I have attended community forums in which residents have pleaded with the Department of Code Compliance to enforce the codes, only to hear that they do not have the litigators to complete the process, or the process is too hard to enforce, etc. The county is allowing these things to happen. The deterioration of our communities will lead to more crime, more gangs, etc. Many think that we should be compassionate about the people living in the complexes, which have become tenements, or in the single family homes, which have become boarding houses. I am all about being compassionate, but the codes were created for a reason. By not enforcing them, the county is allowing slums to exist, which contribute to the uptick in crime we are seeing. Additionally, by not enforcing the codes, the county is not generating the tax revenue to support all of the people living here. The simple fact is that if you have multiple families living in one apartment or house, you are losing additional tax revenue if each family lived in a single dwelling. The county is only getting property tax revenue for one family, when there are multiple families under the same roof.

    4. To 11:58; I could fix this mess, it really is not that complicated. It would be a matter of persuading and maneuvering through a multitude of agendas to bring a consensus driven solution.

      Good accessible and CONVENIENT Mass Transit must be the catalyst to incentivize and attract investors to the area. Developers need to understand that the County is a partner not an adversary. One suggestion would be to run an overhead people mover/tramway down Columbia Pike from the Pentagon to Baileys, Beauregard Corridor, Landmark and then to Van Dorn and then perhaps beyond to Annandale and Springfield. Tram could be funded by bonds. There could be a crossway tram from East Falls Ch to Old Town. This would take bold moves by leadership in Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax. It would help all three jurisdictions. The tram would run through all of its struggling underdeveloped corridors. Perhaps a dedicated bus lane could be part of the network. But busses wont lure folks; they want to get to work quick and not sit in traffic. If they have to sit in traffic they may as well be in their own vehicles in comfort.

      Second, the NIMBYs need to back off and look at the big picture. That would take some public relations polish and Penny just doesn't have it. She alienates her constituents on everything she get involved in. She is well meaning, but this is her achilles heal........she just pisses everyone off!

      The development community would have to make their numbers work to develop in Mason or they will go somewhere else as they are currently. The solution needs bold vision and is really that simple. Almost a mission of greatness, no pun intended, but that is why Trump got elected. Culmore would need to be dismantled and new housing for displaced residents would have to be accommodated. Developers would rush to develop here if the County got serious. Instead of worrying about a school name, it should be focusing on how to make Fairfax great again- no kidding, the County needs a rallying call to get the public behind a vision.

      We have done enough vetting, charities, community meetings, arguing over density. Its time to move on this and the time is now while the economy is stable and growing. Penny's and Sharon's best gift to the County would be to resign and get out of the way for they are a big part of the problem.

      Do I want this job? Sorry it does not pay enough to clean up this mess. I have thought of it but not with the current players. There needs to be game changers at the helm of the County. Until the current players get out of the way we will continue to get lip service and more of the same. Part of the problem is the way the County government is structured. Nine supervisors going in circles. It simply doesn't work, Fairfax is not Leave it to Beaver Land anymore. Beaver, Wally, June and Ward have left the room, its now time for our current Beavers to move on.

    5. Sorry for all the spelling errors, the blog window is kind of small.

    6. Hey Anonymous 3/12/17, 6:47 PM, please be sure to reference this post when you do end up running. It sounds like you understand how to forge a vision and rally your constituents so they can get behind you. What's really stopping you?

    7. Oh shit, sorry 3:26 3/11, missed your asshole comment the first time around. Yes, I am frequently drinking when I comment on this blog (and who isn't amirite?) Anyway. I just thought it was odd that the OP wrote about being weirded out by strange cars. Seemed like an odd comment. Like Peugeots? don't see many of them. definitely weird.

    8. @Adam Goldberg I wondered the same thing about strange cars. I have to admit, I sort of tuned out on 9:36's original comment because he started with "There is nothing Penny or the police can do" which is wholly untrue. But assuming 9:36 and 6:47 PM are the same person, they are not as resigned as they originally sounded, and I hope they show up to the meeting to raise some of these excellent points.

  2. Development would be helpful in this area, but I actually feel that our own residents compound the problem. Take Sears. Wasn't there a company ready to buy it and develop it into a nice urban space, much like ballston or clarendon? I saw some great ideas but the people in my neighboorhood complained and complained about the extra traffic and I have not heard anything more about it. Seems like the whole thing was scrapped. So now we still have the dying Sears and no nice new development. How is this area supposed to get better if residents are so NIMBY about some of these ideas? Gangs are a big problem, but bringing investment into the community, even if it means a little extra traffic, seems to me to be one of the key things that need to happen here.

    1. You are mistaken. The seven corners comprehensive plan and the amendment passed in 2015 are simply a guide for long term planning. There were no definite plans for Sears, just possible options for future redevelopment.

  3. Kay and Ben Cooper3/14/17, 5:29 PM

    This article spurred a reader to write the following letter to Mason Supervisor Penny Gross:

    Dear Supervisor Gross,

    As residents of Mason District since 1985, we have watched with growing dismay the emergence of many problems in Mason District many of which are due to lax code enforcement. We are especially concerned and alarmed by the violent gang activity in Mason District which has been a concern for years but, based on recent horrifying events, is apparently getting worse and is more widespread. We hope to attend the Town Hall meeting on March 29 to hear how you propose to deal with this dangerous and growing problem and we would like to help find solutions.

    As we have said to you and your staff repeatedly over the past few years, we think the overcrowding at Culmore, Willston, and many other below market housing projects in Mason District is giving rise not only to gang activity but other crimes as well. As you know, overcrowded residences lead to overcrowded schools, more pressure on social services, overflow parking, more trash and littering, and significantly more crime. Years of failing to enforce occupancy codes have resulted in many of the problems that now exist in Mason District and throughout Fairfax County.

    For years, the Department of Code Compliance (DCC) has failed to effectively enforce occupancy codes in these densely populated apartment complexes, and this failure has resulted in dangerous overcrowding and unsafe, deplorable living conditions for people who have very few housing options. The only people who benefit from such overcrowding are the landlords, truly slum lords, who are not abiding by the county codes and are taking advantage of the most vulnerable people.

    DCC staff have acknowledged that their enforcement policy is complaint-driven rather than proactive, which means that if they are investigating a complaint at one address, and they observe similar or even worse violations next door or in the vicinity, they will not take action on the other violations. Such an approach is irrational, ineffective, and doomed to failure; moreover, it is unfair to target only the offender that has been reported while ignoring similar or worse violations. And it’s obvious that a complaint-driven system cannot work in dealing with overcrowding since the people who desperately need the housing are unlikely to complain because, as bad as their situation is, any determination of overcrowding would result in their eviction.

    The DCC staff have claimed that it’s difficult to determine how many people live in a residence without violating a person’s right to privacy. But there are clear signs of overcrowding-- like too many vehicles (often with out of state licenses). And there are effective ways to enforce codes that do not violate a person’s rights. Landlords in Mason District are well aware that the county is reluctant to enforce occupancy codes and are taking advantage of this laxness to crowd more people in spaces to increase their rental income without regard for the dangers to their renters. DCC staff has stated that their priority is safety, but overcrowding itself IS a safety issue that can result in health and fire hazards. It’s only a matter of time before a tragedy like the devastating fire at Ghost Ship in Oakland occurs,where many safety code violations were allowed to persist.

    You and the other members of the Board of Supervisors have the responsibility and the power to change the County’s policy by instructing the Department of Code Compliance to vigorously enforce occupancy codes pro-actively and on a routine basis. The County needs to send a strong message to landlords that overcrowding will not be tolerated, and that they will be held accountable for violations by paying fines and losing their government subsidies for providing low income housing.

    We would appreciate a response to our concerns.
    Ben and Kay Cooper