GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – The death of a Greenville County teenager caught in gang- related crossfire has law enforcement cracking down on this growing threat.
To even be considered a gang member, state and federal standards require law enforcement to identify multiple factors, including dress and tattoos, to confirmation through a confidential informant.
The standards for identifying a gang are even harder and take 2 years or more for confirmation. It makes the number of registered gang members in Greenville County pretty astounding.
“We have about 1200 registered in the city and county, but we know that number is higher than that. Probably 4 to 5 times higher than that,” says Greenville Police Chief, Ken Miller.
It’s a problem on the rise, according to Miller, sometimes identifiable through the crimes these groups commit. Shootings, assaults by mob and drugs are pretty standard, but he says groups are getting more resourceful.
“We are seeing, even across the country, a shift from drug related crimes over to property related crimes…fraud, credit card fraud,” said Miller.
Miller says they approach combating gangs in three ways: prevention, intervention and enforcement.
“They are being exposed to gangs in middle school right now, so prevention is very important because we want to reach them before they are even exposed to gangs,” said Officer Michelle Lentz, who heads up prevention.
Under the umbrella of their anti-gang coalition called “Gravity”, programs like the “Officer Allen Jacobs G.R.E.A.T. camp offer tools and education to sway impressionable kids away from the lure of the gang life.
“We can arrest and take gang members to jail all day long, but it’s not solving the problem,” said Lentz.
Yvonne Davis, Gravity’s intervention coordinator, says they are focused on reaching affiliated members and turning their lives around.
“The draw of the gang is to be accepted, to belong and to be empowered,” said Davis. “I just wish that one child that maybe got involved with that gang, maybe they are regretting that decision and they want out. We’ll help you.”
The enforcement is an unfortunate last resort, says Miller, targeted most specifically on violent repeat offenders and known gang members.
“They’re getting letters from us saying ‘you have two paths. Call us, we will help you or look for us to start taking enforcement measures against you,’” said Miller.
The Greenville Police department has a new gang hotline at 467- GANG. Anyone across the Upstate with gang- related concerns can call that number and they will work to connect you with the resources you need.