08/05/05 — Sheriff, GPD: County has no gang problem

View Archive

Sheriff, GPD: County has no gang problem

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on August 5, 2005 1:51 PM

Wayne County law enforcement authorities say they are concerned about gang activity around the county but that groups here are more "wannabe gangs" than organized rings of criminals.

And unwarranted publicity about the possibility of gang activity will only encourage youths seeking publicity for their misdeeds, said Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders and Goldsboro Police Chief Tim Bell. They said adjoining counties have problems with gangs but that they have not gained a foothold in Wayne.

"We don't want to sensationalize it," said Winders. "We've seen writings that would indicate it, but they're wannabes."

"It's on our doorstep," said Bell. "If we keep publicizing them so much, then they may think that they can come here and we'll wind up with them."

On Monday, North Carolina government officials learned the state led the nation in a roundup of gang members. Federal immigration agents said that out of 582 people arrested in a recent nationwide roundup of suspected gang members living illegally in the United States, 77 were from North Carolina.

Since then, law enforcement officer across the state have urged the General Assembly to approve bills that would hand down stiffer penalties for gang members and create a statewide database of criminal gang members.

Winders said news reports about possible gang activity give the wannabes credibility.

Bell said feuds between rival groups of youths from different parts of the city is not new. What is different, he said, is the level of violence they are capable of nowadays.

"There are more guns on the street," said Bell. "People don't have the respect like they used to. There are more violent situations. I hate to see it publicized so much that we get people here."

Authorities are working to both stop the criminal activity and to prevent youths from turning to misdeeds for validation.

"We're working with different groups, trying to discourage young people from getting into gang activity," said Winders.

Bell said Lenoir and Johnston counties have a larger problem. He said authorities in those counties have seen indications of the presence of gangs with ties to national criminal organizations.

Gang-like graffiti was found this summer in a boys' restroom at Spring Creek High School. School officials contacted the Sheriff's Office. Eventually, they identified the student involved.

Spring Creek Principal Steve Clingan said he doesn't believe the graffiti was gang-related.

"We're very aware at Spring Creek of what's going on," Clingan said. "We have a good pulse of the student population and the types of activities that were or were not going on here. If it had been gang-related, we would've taken strong, appropriate action, but that's not the case."

Graffiti in a bathroom is not unusual for any school, he said.

"Some kids have a misguided idea of what's cool and what's not," Clingan said. "It's a continuing war to keep the walls clean."

Olivia Pierce, the school system's executive director for community relations, also said graffiti was nothing new for school officials.

"It's not alarming," she said. "Kids are always doing that. It's not associated with anything."

Trey Rhodes, the county's assistant emergency services manager, conducts awareness classes for emergency medical technicians, first-responders and volunteer firefighters. He said gang-related crime in surrounding counties is far worse than the minor difficulties Wayne authorities face.

Rhodes said that during his nine years as an emergency medical technician in Lenoir County he had to duck bullets and dodge blocks while driving an ambulance.

He said gang members can be as young as 9 years old. Most are recruited by age 13 or 14, he said. The typical member is in his or her late teens. Sometimes youths in the early 20s serve as gang leaders.

Gangs operate by their own code of honor, Rhodes said. They retaliate for any offense they consider disrespectful, such as another gang writing graffiti in their territory.

Winders said violent TV shows, movies and video games contribute greatly to the problem, giving young people a false sense of

He said involvement in organizations such as church groups and the Boys & Girls Club goes a long way to keeping young people on track, he said.

Winders added that parents need to be aware of the signs that their son or daughter is becoming influenced by wannabe gangs. He said his office tries to help parents learn the signs, such as the types of clothing associated with gang members.

Winders said his officers are aware of the potential for gang trouble and try to head it off whenever they foresee the possibility of rival groups squaring off. Last year, he said, investigators learned of a planned fight between two groups at the county fair and prevented the confrontation.

Winders and Bell both said direct involvement in young people's lives by their parents is the best way to curb violence, gang-related or not.

"A big percentage of gang activity would be deterred by parental participation," Winders said. "If they keep up with their children and question them, that would deter a lot of gang activity."

Bell noted a speech by the Rev. Dr. Louis Leigh at the National Night Out event Tuesday at Herman Park. Leigh said parents should assume the full responsibility of teaching their children to obey the law.