Police and others who are working to stem gang activity in Iowa say the key is getting parents more involved in their children’s lives. State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad of Des Moines is the founder and CEO of Creative Visions, a non profit agency that works with at-risk youth. He’s suggesting Iowa needs a statewide curfew.

“I think a law needs to be passed…so that we send children back home and parents have to be responsible for those children to be there,” Abdul-Samad said. “I also think if the child isn’t there, we just can’t penalize the child, we also need to penalize the parent.”

Abdul-Samad says he routinely finds children as young as 8 or 9 out in Des Moines without adult supervision after midnight. Iowa City Police earlier this month arrested five juveniles, some as young as 12, for participating in a gang initiation ritual. Iowa City Crime Prevention Officer Jorey Bailey says many of the kids don’t seem to have caring parents.

“I think a lot of these kids are lacking a strong role model at home,” Bailey said. “Especially these really young kids who don’t have that role model at home, they’re reaching out for that family unit, which they may be able to obtain through gang activity.”

Jeremy Trogdon is a former member of the Vice Lord gang in Des Moines. The 30 year old was released from prison last month after serving more than 10 years for drug and weapons charges. Trogdon says most gang members’ parents are either in prison or involved in illegal activity themselves.

“A lot of the youth in the community where I’m from don’t have the structure or people who care for them, so they go look for that somewhere else,” Trogdon said. “If I grew up in a household that’s selling dope every day, to me, that’s not wrong because that’s what I grew up knowing.

But to someone who didn’t grow up like that, they see the wrong in it.” Trogdon, Bailey and Abdul-Samad made their comments on the Iowa Public Radio program The Exchange.