Leon Worden

Worry about your own darned back yard

By Leon Worden
Wednesday, May 27, 1998

y blood boiled as I caught up on my reading after the three-day holiday weekend.

Item One was the current school boundary debate. It seems there are some awfully wrong-headed people in town. I can understand if folks in Plum Canyon were upset about being told one thing and then another. I can understand if the decision (since rescinded) to send their kids to a different school upset them because it's farther away. But I get the distinct impression that some parents were upset for the wrong reasons.

Item Two was a sensationalized story in another paper where some Valencians engaged in senseless Canyon Country-bashing and expressed their irrational fears of gang members there.

I can't leave you people alone for three days.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you the sun shines on Santa Clarita and we can all stick our heads in the mud. We can't. At the same time, we are the fourth safest city in the nation, both in raw numbers and in crimes per capita, and we should feel damned proud. Or lucky. Or both.

We have some problems, sure. We need to be aware of what they really are, not fixate on mumbo-jumbo and bogus stereotypes. Our problems are not isolated to any one community.

Are there gang members in Canyon Country? Yes. Are there gang members in Saugus? Yes. Newhall? Yes. Val Verde? Yes. And -- hello? There are gang members living in Valencia.

It would be a mistake to assume that criminal activity is worse in one area of our valley than another. Although the Sheriff's Department does not report crimes by community, it does divide the Santa Clarita Valley into different crime reporting areas, and there isn't a significant difference in the number of crimes from one area to the next -- or among racial or ethnic groups or socioeconomic backgrounds.

There are 350 to 400 known gang members in the Santa Clarita Valley at any given time. By "known," I mean the Sheriffs know who they are. By name. They are not just numbers. The Sheriffs are aware of them and keep track of them. When they step out of line, they're busted. Their number has hovered around the 350-mark for several years.

What should be of bigger concern is the use of drugs and alcohol on campus. Drugs and alcohol are available at every junior high and high school in this valley. If kids in Valencia have more cash in their pocket than other kids, it doesn't mean they are immune to drugs. It means they can afford better drugs.

It isn't gang members who are doing most of the buying and selling. There was an incident recently at one of our four high schools where a student was arrested for selling drugs. In his possession was a list of names of 10 of his buyers. The Sheriffs called the parents of the 10 students, warning them to be on the lookout for signs of drug use. Six of the 10 parents complained to the city and the Sheriff's Department that the deputies were wrongfully accusing their kids of using drugs.

I know I'm preaching. I'm preaching to YOU, not your next-door neighbor. Does your child have a parent at home in the afternoon? If not, is your child involved in a supervised extra-curricular activity?

Learn the signs of adolescent drug abuse. Does your child come home on time? Does he ditch school? Does he eat and sleep regularly? Has he lost weight?

Does he avoid you or shy away from conversations? Lock himself in his room? Have glassy eyes or pale skin? Smell peculiar?

If your kid shows any combination of these signs, you should worry. Start by talking to your school guidance counselor. Your school is a great resource. Use it. Quit worrying about some phantom cross-town hoodlums invading your little patch of dirt.

* * *

Another wonderful resource for information about drug abuse and recovery are the Antelope Valley Rehabilitation Centers. The county facilities at Acton and Warm Springs have returned tens of thousands of adult alcohol and drug addicts to the world of the living over the years.

This Saturday, May 30, the AVRCs will host their 26th annual International Al-Impic Games at College of the Canyons. The largest event of its kind in the world, the Al-Impics celebrate the long road to recovery for some extraordinary athletes from the United States and abroad -- extraordinary both in their athletic prowess and in their commitment to staying clean and sober. Opening ceremonies start at 9 a.m. Admission is free.

    Leon Worden is The Signal's special sections editor.

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