Education, grassroots efforts are key to stopping gangs, says CP - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Education, grassroots efforts are key to stopping gangs, says CPD

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

As a 14-year-old girl is recovering in the hospital following what Columbia Police are calling an "unintentional shooting" involving a "validated" gang member, officials are once again trying to find out how to deal with gang activity in Columbia.

For Lance Adams and CPD's Gang Unit, it all starts with education.

"You have to educate the public, you have to educate parents, because most parents would not even know how to recognize who was in a gang or if their child was in a gang," said Adams.

On top of trying to crack down on gang activity in the city, Adams is working to try and stop the gangs from the start.

The gang unit works with children, at risk of joining gangs, trying to expose the bad sides of the gang life style. Adams says his unit also works with gang members who've been arrested, helping them to clean up. He says the programs work.

"When we do follow up on these kids, we have about a 90 percent success rate of kids who are either in gangs, or leaning towards joining gangs, of actually trying to stay on the straight and narrow," said Adams.

In recent weeks, CPD has changed its approach to gang activity. In the past, investigators have been reluctant to talk about gang connections to crime in the city. Now, law enforcement is announcing gang connections as they make arrests and publicly targeting known gang members. With growing concerns about gang violence in the city, we asked Adams what classifies a crime as gang activity.

"It's something that's done for motivating, and done for the propagation of the gang growth," said Adams. "That's when it becomes a gang situation."

Adams says some crimes that involve gang members aren't necessarily gang-related. He also says simply grouping a person into a gang doesn't mean they're automatically a criminal.

"Believe it or not, some of the people that are arrested that are in gangs, all of them are not bad people," said Adams. "They may have hung with the wrong people. They may have made that mistake once or twice. But then you do have the one's out there who are in a gang, they're going to represent that they're in a gang, and they really don't care about the repercussions that come with it."

Adams says members of the Gang Unit work with known gang members who say they want to get out of a gang even after some of those are in jail.

To reach the CPD Gang Unit to report a crime or get information about community meetings, call 803-545-3938.

Copyright 2013 WIS. All rights reserved.

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