06/11/06 — GPD: Teens are experimenting with gang behavior

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GPD: Teens are experimenting with gang behavior

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 11, 2006 2:07 AM

To the naked eye, they might look like subtle twists of the fingers or jerks of the hand, but to gang members who understand their meaning, hand signals can be a symbol of camaraderie between affiliates or a declaration of war.

Goldsboro police Chief Tim Bell said some officers are noticing an increase in hand signal use on certain beats in the city. The source -- gangs.

"We are definitely seeing neighborhood gangs," he said. "Goldsboro is not immune to that."

While these groups are not yet affiliated with nationally recognized gangs -- the Bloods, Latin Kings and Crips -- Bell said they are still a problem and result in increased violent crime and larceny.

In some ways, the "smaller scale" gangs can be worse than more organized ones, he added.

"Your neighborhood gangs are disorganized and less controllable," Bell said. "And that makes them the most dangerous."

But what inspires young people to join these groups?

Officer Willie Thomas said there are many factors -- television, music, drugs and bad influences on the block.

Often, television glorifies gang affiliation, he said. Children see these programs and emulate what's on the screen -- most notably, hand signals -- and that can be dangerous.

"It's dangerous because these kids don't know what they're doing," Thomas said. "They could be declaring war and not even know it."

Major Jay Memmelaar said when influences and role models fail these children, they succumb to peer pressure from gang members with "pockets full of cash" more easily.

"You've also got the lure of easy money," he said. "They see these drug dealers with a pocket full of cash."

But Memmelaar has locked up enough criminals to know what the children don't -- a pocket full of easy money leads to jail.

"It's about getting the kids to see the big picture," he said. "If this guy is doing so great, why is he standing out there in the rain?"

Bell said the department is working hard to crack down on neighborhood gangs. It's not a major problem yet, he said, and the police force plans to keep it that way.

"We've locked a lot of these individuals up," he said.