Operation GangUp has its roots in early 2011 when U.S. Representative Lou Barletta (R) and State Senator John Yudichak (D) came together to discuss the increasing gang activity in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and how to combat the growing issue.
As early as 2005, Mr. Barletta and Hazleton Police Chief Robert Ferdinand recognized problems with gangs and traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with officials in the Department of Justice. They believed the first step of this new project would be to promote gang awareness and educate the public on gang-related topics. The primary purpose and goals of the operation include working closely with local law enforcement as well as community administrators and educators to develop preventative strategies, conduct research and institute the best practices for reducing gang activity, and offer training to those who require it.
The first gang awareness informational session that was open to the public occurred on June 8th, 2011 at Penn State’s Hazleton Campus. This event featured renowned gang experts from around the area as well as various law enforcement agents, including D. Darrell Dones, Supervisory Special Agent of the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI; Kent Lane of the Pennsylvania State Police; Detective Chris Orozco of the Hazleton Police Department and founder of the city’s Gang Task Force; Chief Larry Semenza of the Old Forge Police Department; Luzerne County District Attorney Jackie Musto Caroll and Lackawanna County District Attorney Andrew Jarbola. These professionals were gathered to discuss strategies that have worked in other areas around the country, and allowed a public Q&A toward the end of the meeting. The goal was to spark interest and concern in the community and to set the stage for many more meetings and action plans to come.
The next event took place on February 23rd, 2012 at King’s College Campus, as the operation began to pick up pace. Another Q&A panel discussion took place at the end of the meeting with experts Special Agent D. Darrell Dones and Chief Larry Semenza, plus a few other professionals who began to support the cause. This includes Intelligence Captain Robert Maguire of Lackawanna County Prison and esteemed member of many gang related institutions; Officer Brian Lavan who serves as Director of Police Operations and Security for the Wilkes-Barre Area School District; Chief Len Mickavicz of the Taylor Police Department who has served on the U.S. Marshal’s Fugitive Task Force and the Lackawanna County Drug Task Force; and David Tosh, the Director of Secondary Education for the Wyoming Valley West School District. The list of supporters continues to increase across many different fields, including educators and professors, law enforcement officers and special agents from local, state, and federal institutions, correctional officers, and more. Also in between meetings and events, Barletta and Yudichak had been touring the different districts of NEPA, educating neighborhoods and recognizing gangs as a serious problem in the community. Specific examples were cited in recent news which has increased awareness, including a February 9th assault on a 15-year-old GAR High School student (which may or may not be gang related) and the abduction and beating of a teenage girl in the Hazleton School District, an assault initiated by gangs. According to Yudichak, GangUp officially began after the DOJ identified a move in gang activity to Hazleton. This may be as a result of its proximity to major cities, increased drug market, limited police presence, or a combination of the three.
On May 3rd, 2012 at Luzerne County Community College, the third Gang Awareness Information Session took place with an emphasis on community based actions. Dr. D. Darell Dones provided another brief informational presentation and Detective Chris Orozco made another appearance, along with another expert panel. The panel members include Carmen Ambrosino, who is the CEO of Wyoming Valley Alcohol and Drug Services (WVADS) and a certified Drug and Addiction Counselor; Arthur Breese, who serves as Director of Diversity for Geisinger Health Care Systems as well as President of Northeastern Pennsylvania Diversity Education Consortium; William Browning, who is currently Director of the Lackawanna County Department of Human Services and Children and Youth Services; Angel Jirau, who is the Executive Director and founder of the local Spanish American Leaders Serving All (SALSA) as well as a Community Diversity Activist; Tricia Thomas, who serves as Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Northeastern PA, which provides after school and summer programming for children; and Theresa Tyler-Smith who is the Co-Pastor of New Covenant Christian Fellowship Church and founder/director of BMW (Beyond Morning Worship). Operation GangUp has succeeded in collecting more community administrators and activists, whom are essential to promoting a safer lifestyle and environment.
It was at this meeting it was announced that The Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development would serve as the facilitator and convener to Operation GangUp’s five committees and provide research support for the project. At this time various initiatives are underway to include training on a variety of levels, public policy and research. The subcommittees began meeting in summer 2012.
The fourth informational meeting will take place on September 27th, at the Hazleton Area High School, with an emphasis on law enforcement.