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Sheriff sets zero tolerance for gangs

GATESVILLE – Sheriff Edward E. Webb was recently certified as qualified and trained to investigate “gang” activity and it appears that it’s none too soon.

He recently confiscated a piece of gang related graffiti from Gates County High School.

Webb said he and his deputies are at somewhat of a handicap with budget cuts that left no funding available for a School Resource Officer, but still he is adamant; there will be no tolerance for gang related activities, style of dressing, hand signs or the graffiti that symbolizes each particular gang.

It may sound hard to believe, but according to the sheriff, all indicators show there is already gang involvement in Gates County. The State of North Carolina’s Criminal Justice System has currently identified 387 “known” gangs operating within the state.

“You normally think of gangs in the big cities like Durham and Raleigh, but it has trickled into the county from other localities,” said Webb. “We are going to do everything we can to stop any gang activity that would threaten and terrorize peaceful citizens and we are working on that right now. We have zero tolerance for it.”

Confiscating the sheet of paper bearing the graffiti “Folk Nation” at the high school was added proof that students are thinking in terms of gangs, Webb said.

“You can see the symbol for the gang, Folk Nation, with the words ‘gangsta disciple’ right next to it,” said the sheriff. “This is just one of many such symbols for some of the gangs now organized in North Carolina.”

In fact, as Webb said, the number of gangs and memberships is rapidly increasing. In 1999 alone, there was a 6.5 percent gang activity in North Carolina. This year, we are currently at 22.5 percent of North Carolina’s youth involved in a gang.

“That information came from the Governor’s Crime Commission and the North Carolina Criminal Justice Analyst Center,” Webb explained. “The reported numbers of gang members grew over five years from 5,068 in 1999, to over 8,517 in 2003. That’s an increase of 68 percent increase of gangs and gang related crimes in the State of North Carolina alone.”

The sheriff explained that law enforcement’s definition of a gang is a group of individuals, juvenile and or adult, who associate on a continuous basis, form an allegiance for a common purpose, and are involved in delinquent or criminal activity. He said there is no color or racial boundaries.

“A lot of the kids are involved and say they aren’t even though they have all the details and information about the gangs,” said Webb. “According to North Carolina’s General Statutes, they are gang members when they are trusted with that type of information.”

Currently, gang activity in Gates County has been limited to graffiti showing up at various locations and like that confiscated at GCHS, on sheets of paper. Sheriff Webb said it is the duty of the sheriff’s office and deputies to stop it.

“Our job is to maintain public order and safety and to respond to stopping criminal activity before it starts,” said the sheriff. “We will also seek prosecution for those found guilty of criminal gang involvement and we will work to eliminate gang recruitment in Gates County. Thank goodness, we’ve been fortunate thus far that we have not had some of the major criminal activity displayed in other areas. We want to keep it that way.”

Under NC’s General Statutes, law enforcement is allowed to take proactive action before a gang gets into a well-organized structure.

“A gang may range from a loose knit group of individuals who hang around together and commit crimes together, to a formal organization with a leader or ruling council, gang colors, gang identifiers and a gang name,” said Webb. “According to national statistics, about 95 percent of hard core gang members are high school drop-outs. That and other issues contribute to a youth forming an alliance with a gang, much of which begins on the Internet.”

According to the sheriff, a gang can meet needs that go unfulfilled in other aspects of the youth’s life including providing a sense of security, structure and discipline that may be missing at home. A gang appears loyal when others are not.

“Also, a lack of positive influence and interaction with parents causes youth to seek out fellowship with people they can identify with and who offer some form of protection for those who intimidate them,” said the sheriff. “They may even gain a certain amount of self-respect from gang membership.”

Webb said youth who are on the fringe of gang involvement usually display some of the following behaviors and characteristics.

While these guidelines are not written in stone, a combination of these signs indicates a child is more likely to become involved in a gang.

Poor academic progress in school.

Lack of interest in school activities.

Large blocks of unsupervised time.

Signs of increased conflict at home.

Frequent disciplinary (home / school).

Frequent contact with police.

Drawing graffiti.

Imitating gang dress or behavior.

Tattoos drawn on the body.

Uses hand signs adopted by the gang.

Webb is currently working to find funding, in the form of grant money, for a School Resource Officer to assist at the high school, and he’s working through Homeland Security to obtain funding for an officer and special equipment for controlling gang activity.

For more information, or to request the sheriff to address a civic group or church on gang activity, contact the Sheriff’s Office at 252-357-0210.