Published 12:00 am Friday, June 15, 2007
All 3,300 officers in Washington, D.C.’s sworn police force worked overtime last weekend in a blitz to jumpstart the city’s summer crime-fighting program, aimed in part at gangs. They arrested nearly 500 people and soon expect to have 72 surveillance cameras standing watch across the city.
In South Carolina,where at least 340 gangs are in operation, a new law expands the state grand jury’s powers to subpoena and investigate gangs. The law allows officers to seize gang property and creates a statewide database of gang members.
And in municipalities surrounding Atlanta, new street gang ordinances allow police to take minor crimes such as vandalism, disorderly conduct and trespassing to municipal courts for swift, sure punishment ó rather than to the heavily burdened state courts. Victims also could get punitive damages three times the value of their loss if they file a civil suit in municipal court.
“When word gets out that it is something we are not going to tolerate, we hope the gangs move on,” Lawrenceville Mayor Rex Millsaps said.
As Salisbury-Rowan officials and volunteers sift through ideas from last week’s gang summit, it’s important to remember how widespread the gang problem is and how varied the solutions. The community needs to diminish the allure of gangs by giving young people better alternatives, but that’s not the only tactic. A tough stance against gangs themselves and the crimes they commit is essential. If authorities can take a hard line on minor infractions ó and the community will back them up ó young members might drop out of gangs before their crimes get more serious.
In the past 25 years, according to national reports, both the number of cities with reported youth gang problems and the number of gang members have increased nearly sevenfold, while the estimated number of youth gangs has increased more than 10 times. Police say Salisbury has more than 25 gangs, from motorcycle gangs to youth gangs.
The more than 400 people who turned out Thursday night for the Salisbury-Rowan summit showed by their numbers that awareness is up, and so is determination to counteract this corrosive trend. Gangs are not limited to metropolitan areas. They’re everywhere ó small cities, quaint towns and out in rural areas. They’re everyone’s problem.
One study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice, “Youth Gang Problems and Strategies,” concludes that the most effective approach will likely involve prevention, intervention and suppression strategies executed in a collaborative way, supported by shared information, and validated by rigorous evaluation.
Salisbury-Rowan took the first step toward that collaboration by coming together from varied walks of life on Thursday night and sharing perspectives on gang activity. Many more steps and perhaps missteps lie ahead. But eyes are open to the problem and hearts are earnest in wanting to help. That’s a good start.