Confronting fight clubs: Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office seeks expansion of after-school program to West Willow
Editor's note: This story was updated at 4:45 p.m. with additional information from the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office.
To prevent future problems similar to ones that had previously surfaced in Ypsilanti Township neighborhoods with teen fight clubs, the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office is planning to expand an after-school program this year.
Tom Perkins | AnnArbor.com file photo
The grant will be used to hire and train four site facilitators to engage youth living in the West Willow neighborhood in Ypsilanti Township, as well as the MacArthur Boulevard housing developments in Superior Township who will coordinate weekly after-school programs for youth between the ages of 11 and 15 years old.
The facilitators will all be members of the community who have experience working with youth and promoting responsible behaviors.
TIP is a creative arts and engaged learning program that targets at-risk, marginalized youth. Sessions are once a week, and involve students from the University of Michigan.
Part of the scheme of the program is to use multimedia projects — including video and photography, according to the grant application.
In addition to promoting community-building in the neighborhoods, the sheriff's office is hoping the program can help combat the root of issues that had risen in West Willow, including fight clubs among teenage girls, said Commander Derrick Jackson, PIO for the sheriff's office.
Teenage boys had instigated fights between teenage girls in the neighborhood, in the same fashion that dog fights were coordinated, according to information provided by the Sheriff’s Office in the grant application. The fights were videotaped and uploaded to YouTube.
In 2011, a sheriff’s deputy told the New West Willow Neighborhood Association said about 80 youths were gathering for the fights that lasted about 15 minutes in a scheduled fashion.
Since then, Jackson said the sheriff's office has interacted with a number of the individuals involved in the activities and the fights have noticeably stopped.
“I think we’re at a good point, we have a lot of residents that are engaged,” Jackson said of the West Willow community.
If the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners approves the use of the grant funding for the extension of the program, sessions would begin in February at Danbury Park, Sycamore Meadows and West Willow. The board is slated to vote on the issue at its Ways and Means meeting 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The sheriff’s office will be working with the New West Willow Neighborhood Association, Greater Works Youth Empowerment, Young Women Making Washtenaw County Better and the Ypsilanti Public Library to expand the program.
The sheriff’s office has addressed gang activity since the 1990s, and currently estimates between nine and 10 cliques exist in the West Willow neighborhood.
Since 2009 the sheriff’s office has assigned two deputies to the MacArthur Boulevard community to investigate community problems. The effectiveness of the assignment resulted in a team assigned in 2010 to the West Willow neighborhood.
The department also has started a Community Action Team, which the sheriff's office credits as one of the key reason that recent statistics have shown crime in the West Willow neighborhood has decreased from 2011 to 2012.