Suburban youth gangs cropping up in Western New York neighborhoods may be a lot more subtle than those in urban areas, but they could be just as dangerous.
It can be as simple as suburban youths wearing blue and white plastic beaded bracelets on their left wrist to represent that they are members of the notorious Crips gang.
Or, black and red knitted bracelets worn on their right wrist to show their membership in the Bloods gang.
"They're using everyday articles," explained Investigator Thomas E. Einhiple of the Buffalo State College police. "It keeps their gang affiliation very low-key, but it still fulfills their responsibility to represent their gang."
Monday, Einhiple was among several speakers at a Gang Awareness workshop focusing on the growing gang activity in Western New York.
The all-day training workshop was held in the auditorium at the Harlem Road Community Center, 4255 Harlem Road, Amherst. The event attracted an audience of about 130 people -- most of them social service providers, school personnel, mental-health providers and police officers.
The event was hosted by New Directions Youth and Family Services, an agency that helps youth with emotional and behavioral problems as well as their families.
Margaret D. Flannery, clinical director of Wraparound Services at New Directions Youth and Family Services, who organized the event, said the day was meant as a way to inform the community about gangs and help prevent gang involvement among at-risk youth.
Buffalo Police Officer Richard Woods, a leading authority on gang activity, said no Western New York suburb is immune to gangs.
"Any community that has drug activity and drug businesses has a gang influence," said Woods. "A good portion of the drug trade in the City of Buffalo is suburban people. A lot of the gang culture is replicated in the suburbs."
While some gang members are more overt -- such as displaying bandannas or wearing clothing with a predominant color -- others tend to be more discreet by wearing their gang colors in bracelets, necklaces, and even their shoelaces, said Einhiple.
However, he said, just because a youth is wearing articles that happen to be gang colors doesn't mean he is definitely in a gang because gang colors are identifiers -- not a certainty.
Flannery added that parents should also look for other signs of gang involvements, such as changes in behavior, a significant drop in school achievement and friends only known by their nicknames.
"I'm here to learn what to look for and to stay ahead of recognizing any gang activity that may come up in our town," said Orchard Park Police Officer Leonard Govenettio, who was in the audience.