05/26/09 — Commissioners say 'yes' to gang grant

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Commissioners say 'yes' to gang grant

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 26, 2009 1:46 PM

Wayne County Commissioners agreed last week to support a $573,412 federal grant to help local organizations and agencies, including the Sheriff's Office, combat gang activity in the county.

Commissioners were hesitant at first to participate in the grant program suggested by the nonprofit group A Lot of Direction, Love and Affection (ADLA) and offered by the Governor's Crime Commission, saying they did not want to get involved if after a year or two they would end up having to foot the entire bill.

But after checking with state officials, commissioners voted unanimously to approve the deal. There is no upfront cost to the county.

Sheriff Carey Winders said he had been concerned about how the money would be restricted, but after learning that he would be able to spread the money around to use it to pay overtime to the 10 officers he has trained in gang prevention, he also agreed.

"The worst case scenario (if a full-time person is hired) is that for the next two years you would do $10,000, then for three to four years following you would do $55,000 each year and that would be local money," County Manager Lee Smith said. "The worst case we would have to pick up the $55,000.

"It is similar to the COPS grants in that after the first years you then begin to pick up 25, 50, 75 then 100 percent. It was the board's decision three to five years ago that we were not necessarily interested in doing that because, as you recall, it would require you to keep those positions. If you got to the point of making changes to the staff, you could not do that. It made it very difficult because of the state and federal standards."

Using the money to pay overtime instead of creating a new full-time position eliminates that problem, Smith said.

Smith had been asked about the support by ADLA Executive Director Danny King.

Grants that do not require a future match may be approved administratively, Smith said. Grants that might require matches are approved by commissioners.

Smith said he had not been comfortable signing the grant since he did not know what the county's responsibility would be in the future.

Winder said his officers are capable of performing many of the tasks outlined in the grant. The overtime would not be limited to one officer, but would be dispersed among the 10 officers who are assigned to perform the tasks during a particular week.

The grant, King said, would help forge a collaborative effort in gang prevention between churches, community-based organizations, public schools, Wayne Community College, Mount Olive and Goldsboro police departments and Sheriff's Office.

"We didn't really approach this without doing our research and looking at the situation in Wayne County," King said. "Wayne Community, the churches, everybody in the partnership will have their own funding and ADLA will be the administrative facilitator. What the state looks at is collaboration. It is looking for partnerships working together instead of one agency controlling all of the money

"We all ready have a lot of those relationships in place," he said.

King said the program looks more at gang involvement than gang suppression. It will look at ways of criminal mapping and where gang activity is actually taking place.

The Mount Olive and Goldsboro police departments have agreed to provide crime mapping and gang information by utilizing two volunteer officers, he said.

The deputy would be the lead officer, he said.

King said the grant had been approved contingent on the "last partner," the Sheriff's Office, signing onto the project.

"I thought of several ways to sustain it after two years," King said. "I don't think that would be a major issue. One way we could sustain it is to leverage other resources and apply for more funding and two being in the structured day environment I felt it could provide a resources officer for structured day."

ADLA operates a structured day program that targets children between the ages of 7 and 17 who are delinquent or at risk due to inappropriate behavior in the home, school or community. It provides an environment where children can continue to learn and grow academically even after being suspended or expelled from school for anything other than a gun charge.

"Talking about grants, the tax base and budget information that I have heard today -- these grants are pretty high-dollar items when it comes to bringing jobs to the community," King said. "I would hate to slow down the process already being at the table."

Leveraging those other dollars might not be possible, Smith said.

"When you look at local dollars vs. state or federal dollars, sometimes those funds cannot be used for other projects, you have to use local," he said.

"As we look at $10,000 a year when compared to the number of youths going to jail and being arrested and even at the long-term level, I think it is a minimum investment when you look at what is going on with our youths," King said. "I believe if we are going to make a difference as a community I feel like we have to act now.

"We are not saying don't lock people up. That is not the approach. The approach is that often times you have people in leadership and you have followers. We want to look at some of these followers who don't have a lot of criminal background and then try to get some of these members looking at getting their GEDs and employment training as opposed to being in a gang."

Commissioner Steve Keen asked if the public schools could be involved and share in the cost.

The schools already are involved and provide three teachers and assistants, King said.