08/25/06 — City officer: Parents can spot gang signs

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City officer: Parents can spot gang signs

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on August 25, 2006 1:59 PM

There are signs of gang activity across Wayne County, a local law enforcement official told a group of county foster parents Thursday.

Whether those gangs take hold in this community -- and if children will become their victims -- is up to parents and other concerned residents, Goldsboro police Sgt. Theresa Chiero said.

Although many people don't believe it or would like to ignore it, there are gangs in Wayne County, Ms. Chiero said.

During her 14 years as an investigator and line sergeant, she has worked in the neighborhoods where gang members live. She said she sees gang members' habits, attitudes and the crimes they commit.

But that is not the only place parents and other adults need to look, she added.

Watching for the influence of gangs begins at home.

"Be aware of these things, but be aware of the signs in your own homes and in your kids. You don't want them to grow up like this," she said.

Ms. Chiero spoke with concerned parents at the Foster Parent Building on Ormond Avenue as part of the meeting of the Foster Adoption Support Team.

The gang problem is nothing new, she said. Gangs have been around almost as long as humans. Groups of people have banded together throughout history to murder, steal and pillage, Ms. Chiero said. In recent years, children and young adults have formed gangs that have ranks and structure like a military unit, but their purpose isn't to protect people, she said.

In Wayne County, local groups are not as structured as the larger and more well-known Bloods and Crypts gangs in Los Angeles and New York, but Ms. Chiero said that can make them just as dangerous.

"Our gangs are what we consider non-traditional or hybrid gangs. The members usually act on instinct. They will act on impulse and that makes them scarier for people," Ms. Chiero said.

Gang members have their own identifying features such as tattoos, how they wear their shoelaces or the color of their clothes. Many gangs have even developed their own forms of communication through hand signs, graffiti and creating their own alphabet, Ms. Chiero said.

She added that many people think gang members are stupid, but the complicated nature of their organization and communication system suggest the opposite.

"If they'd just apply (those skills) to society that way, it'd be awesome," she said.

Wayne County gangs have begun to mark their territory with graffiti and tagging, which is larger, more elaborate graffiti. Some choose to make their mark on the side of a building or nearby street signs, but Ms. Chiero said residents shouldn't allow those markings in their neighborhoods.

"Graffiti is the newspaper of the streets. It sends a message to other members or outsiders," she said. "If graffiti is on your neighborhood, let your local law enforcement know about it. You don't want it to stay. You want to get that off the streets and send a message back."

Children join gangs because they are looking for respect, brotherhood and acceptance, Ms. Chiero said. For those who receive that reinforcement in their homes, gangs are not as intriguing. But add money, sex, drugs and power to the mix or remove that personal support from family and gangs can be a powerful draw for an insecure teenager, she added.

Some of the personal signs of gang affiliation or activity include poor progress in school, truancy, continuous negative contact with police, personality changes, script tattoos or branding, Ms. Chiero said.

As Wayne County continues to grow, Ms. Chiero said more children might be tempted to join gangs, but residents can take a stand to make sure their neighborhoods and neighbors are safe.

"Don't go home and be scared. Just be aware and pay more attention to what you children are doing and what's going on in your neighborhood," Ms. Chiero said.