COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The head of the law enforcement coalition battling gangs in the Midlands says they are still a serious problem, but their membership is on the decline.
The Midlands Gang Task Force grew out of long-standing efforts by the Richland County Sheriff's Department to crack down on the growth of gang activity, and those comments follow concerns from Kershaw County's top cop that gangs seem to have migrated into his jurisdiction.
Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews has been concerned about his officers encountering more gang members, suggesting some may be coming into his county from Richland County more often over the past year.
Sheriff Matthews said on his Facebook page that the people of Kershaw can't pretend gangs won't travel into his area to commit criminal acts. There has been an organized, multi-jurisdictional effort to curb the spread of gangs as of 2014 when Richland County launched the Midlands Gang Task Force.
Capt. Vince Goggins heads that group and said his department wants to work with Kershaw County, which is not yet a member.
Goggins said without proper resources, law enforcement could have a hard time detecting gangs as they begin to grow from within a county.
"When you do not have a working gang task force and you have gang members within your jurisdiction, it's not a problem until it's a problem," Goggins said. "And you don't really know what you're working with until you know who you're dealing with."
Last year a wide variety of police agencies from all over the state gathered in Columbia to discuss strategy for dealing with gang issues.
Goggins said organization by law enforcement and better education in communities has helped lower gang membership in Richland County by about half over the past few years.