01/28/07 — Task force takes aim at gangs in county

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Task force takes aim at gangs in county

By Lee Williams
Published in News on January 28, 2007 2:01 AM

Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders knows that the two chief money makers for gangs are drug pushing and the illegal sale of weapons.

To stop the flow of drugs and weapons in the community, Winders tapped 1st Sgt. Max Staps, a former narcotics agent, to lead the newly formed Wayne County Sheriff's Office Gang Task Force.

Staps, who officially took the helm Dec. 4, is used to rounding up drug dealers. He plans to use his expertise to put a dent in the drug and weapons trade and the gang population.

"We handle gangs, but drugs, too, and a lot of gangs are involved in drugs and weapons," Staps said. "(The sheriff) needed someone with the knowledge in that area to come over and help in that area."

Staps plans to use his experience in working with federal drug enforcement agents and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force to round up major drug traffickers and keep them off the streets for good -- or as long as the law will allow.

"It's a faster process," Staps said. "The court has 100 days after (the offenders) are indicted to hear the case on the federal level."

Drug offenders who are convicted on a federal level typically get longer prison sentences, he said.

"It's a day for a day," Staps said. "You get 10 years, you serve 10 years."

Staps said working to see more drug offenders prosecuted on the federal level would help clear out the jails and lighten the caseload for state prosecutors.

Drug offenders caught would first be charged on a state level, but once federal prosecutors picked up the case, the state charges would be dropped, he said.

The gang task force will focus on rounding up gang members through community contact and traffic enforcement to also deter gang activity because many times it takes months to build a drug case, he said.

"We will use traffic enforcement as a quicker tool to arrest them and get them off the streets and then use it to further the investigation," Staps said.

More than 16 gangs including the often brutal Hispanic gangs have been identified in Goldsboro, Dudley, Mount Olive, Fremont and unincorporated Wayne County. Officials say the number is not unusually high.

The promise of fast money, women and the perceived status symbol lures some people to join gangs, Staps said.

"It's the traditional drug enticement -- fast money and women -- with the added title of a gang member or gang leader," he said.

Staps supervises Deputy Matt Miller, the sheriff's first gang intervention officer. He will also supervise another deputy who will join the task force once he completes his basic law enforcement training certification.

Winders said he is keeping the deputy's name secret for now, but added it's someone who can speak fluent Spanish to help handle the growing Hispanic gang population in southern Wayne County near the Duplin County line.

The new position will be funded through a $92,572.50 state grant the sheriff's office received from the Governor's Crime Commission. More than 19 local agencies received more than $1.5 million from the crime commission to help deter gangs, officials said.

The grants required a 25 percent match. The money was awarded to areas where a growing gang presence was identified, Governor's Crime Commission Executive Director David Jones said.

Wayne, Lenoir, Sampson, Onslow, Duplin, Pitt, Wilson, Johnston, Wake, Cumberland and Harnett have seen a sharp rise in Hispanic gangs since the influx of the Hispanic population, Jones said.

The Goldsboro Police Department also received about $122,680 to pay off-duty officers to help with gang assessments and investigations and gang awareness, Jones said.