As Chester County deputies battle gangs that include children as young as 12 for control of the streets, the sheriff will appear Thursday night on national television to show one program aimed at helping teens before the trouble turns to violence and prison.
Sheriff Alex Underwood and several deputies who helped a 16-year-old rapper change from a troubled and potentially violent path of abuse will be featured in an hour-long episode of “Beyond Scared Straight” on the A&E Network. The show premieres at 10 p.m. Thursday and shows the sheriff’s office Project STORM, an acronym for Showing Teens Our Real Mission.
Underwood said the project aims to cut down on delinquent behavior and give a “reality check” to young people.
Underwood instituted the tough talk, tough love idea after taking office almost two years ago. The interaction between Underwood, his deputies, and teenagers who are on a path toward potential serious crime is featured on the TV program.
He said his goal in the program, and his aggressive law enforcement, is to “save our youth before it’s too late.”
The work between deputies – all of whom volunteer their time – and the teens and their parents shows that the tough-love approach can work and can help stem the rising tide of violence in Chester County.
Thursday’s show is the second time A&E has filmed at the Chester County Sheriff’s Office and county jail.
“This will give viewers another opportunity to take a small peek into the lives of at-risk youth and witness how this program can change their lives,” Underwood said.
Robert Sprouse, Chester County chief deputy, said, “This is one of those initiatives that we know has worked and can help the young people and the community.”
The county’s struggles with violence and gangs has mushroomed in the past six weeks, after the Nov. 4 execution-style killing of Chester City Councilman Odell Williams. Williams, 69, was gunned down by gang members after an argument, police said.
Police have identified at least six gangs with as many as 300 members and prospective members as young as 12 years old.
Yet after the crime and before the arrest of five gang members – including the 18-year-old accused of shooting Williams – gang members threatened the lives of the deputies investigating the crime. In June, another teenaged gang member was charged with murder after a 16-year-old was shot down in the middle of a busy street.
The problem has become so severe that Chester County officials have had state agents help with gang interdiction and have asked for a state gang task force to be sent to Chester.