Police: Despite recent gang headlines, stats show decrease in vi - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Police: Despite recent gang headlines, stats show decrease in violence

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

"When you look at Columbia overall, we're talking about a very small percentage of gang members in gangs," said Columbia's Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago.

Santiago would not give a specific number, but says it's not just about the amount, it's also their structure.

"What we have in Columbia is what's considered cliques," said Santiago. "And these cliques, they could be the name of a street or five individuals that live on a neighborhood and start an effort to be criminals."

Santiago says gang members' style and approach are changing so it can be harder to pinpoint.

"The colors change, the way they wear their clothes change. The way they represent themselves and that's what gangs really thrive off of, is the attention," said Santiago. "They want the attention of what they're doing."

The shooting Monday night at the Colony Apartments, he says, is an example of how brazen gang members can be.

"Broad daylight, out in the open, just hysterically shooting, not having a care in the world for who might be at the other end of those bullets," said Santiago.

The Colony Apartments is just one neighborhood in Columbia where police say gang members reside. But, just living here as a gang members is not enough for an arrest. Both CPD and Richland County's gang units are working together to identify active members who are out here causing the violence.

"As police chief, I don't want to shy away from the fact that we have gangs in Columbia," said Santiago. "We've always had gangs in Columbia for a very long time. It's been an ongoing mission of the Columbia Police Department to defeat these gangs."

Santiago cites city stats to show there has been a decrease in violence recently, even though he says the perception of crime has increased.

"With the gang unit, we want to be in your face, sending a message to those street thugs that what they do is not acceptable," said Santiago. "But we need and beg the help of the community because we can't just do it by ourselves."

One problem in targeting gang violence is many witnesses fear retaliation.

But Santiago stresses when you call Crimestoppers you will remain anonymous and you could receive a reward.

Copyright 2013 WIS. All rights reserved.

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