Residents get an update on gangs situation

Tue, 02/26/2008 - 4:42pm
By: Ben Nelms

Nearly 50 parents and others came to Sams Auditorium Monday night for a community awareness seminar on gang awareness and Internet safety sponsored by the Fayette County Board of Education. Speakers included District Attorney Scott Ballard and representatives from local law enforcement and the school system.

Fayetteville Police Officer and Fayette County High School Resource Officer Bob Stavenger began the presentation with an overview of gangs and gang-related activity, citing the distinction between traditional gangs such as Crips and Bloods, those of hybrid gangs such as the Southside Mafia and other types of groupings such as cults and hate groups.

Stavenger listed numerous reasons why youth are attracted to gangs. Among those were the need to be a part of a group, to supplement attention or the lack of it, for protection, to earn money or to be with friends. Other reasons included to peer pressure, low self-esteem or an unhappy home life.

Perhaps as significant as anything in Monday’s presentation were the signs of gang involvement.

Some of those telltale signals include ball caps worn to the left or right, jewelry, tattoos or drawings containing unexplained signs or symbols, wearing clothing of a particular color, the possession of money from unexplained sources, negative contact with police, truancy or poor progress in school studies.

Stavenger noted that some of the many signs and symbols used by various gangs change from year to year.

Responding to a question posed by an audience member later in the meeting, Stavenger said children displaying one or two of the signs was not necessarily indicative of participation in gang activity. He said the presence of multiple signs and a change in a child’s patterns of behavior can be an indicator of gang affiliation.

Both Stavenger and Fayetteville Police Lt. Debbie Chambers stressed that parents could reduce the chance of gang membership by talking frankly with their children about gangs, being firm and monitoring the child’s behavior. Both stressed the need for parents to be a role model for their children and to set the standard for acceptable behavior.

“This is not a culture problem, this is not just an American problem,” Stavenger said. “This is a worldwide problem.”

Chambers agreed, adding that parents should know their children’s friends and the parents of those friends.

“If you don’t know your child’s friends, they shouldn’t be going out with them.” she said. “Know their friends and their parents.”

Also at the meeting, school system Technical Services Director Curt Cearly suggested making the Internet a family activity, stressing that parents should get to know their child’s virtual friends as much as they know the child’s real friends.

“There should be rules and guidelines, just like you have for things like driving and dating,” he said.

Cearly said parents should block objectionable material, utilize a good filtering system and keep identifying information private.

Addressing safety and other issues from the standpoint by patrol officers, Fayette Sheriff’s Det. Anthony Rhodes explained an officer’s rationale and the procedures used in various types of traffic stops.

Responding to an audience question, Rhodes said an officer would be subject to an internal investigation if a motorist or passenger charged with an offense makes a valid assertion that the citation was not warranted.

An audience suggestion recommended that, in a similar way that tax dollars were spent to provide an outstanding new seniors’ center, the county should look at establishing a center for children with around-the-clock activities staffed with mentors and parent volunteers.

Responding to a question from the audience about gang training received by officers, Chambers said training is provided from both local and state sources, adding that Fayette law enforcement agencies network with other agencies in Clayton, Coweta, Fulton and Spalding counties.

D.A. Ballard told the audience that the idea behind the seminars was to share information with parents and build on a partnership for the benefit of their children.

“We want to share our observations with you and you can share your feelings with us. We want an alliance,” Ballard said.

Additional community awareness seminars will be held Feb. 28 at Sandy Creek High School, March 3 at Whitewater High School and March 10 at Starr’s Mill High School. The meetings will run from 7-8:30 p.m.

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