DURHAM, N.C. — Gangs have a grip on several sections of Durham. By some estimates, there are 3,000 to 4,000 gang members in and around the Bull City. Law enforcement is looking at ways to prevent the rise of gang activity.
"It's a different world. It's a gangster mentality," said Deputy W.K. Dodson, of the Durham County Sheriff's Office.
"The reach that gangs have on kids is phenomenal," said Deputy E.C. Hoskins, of the Durham County Sheriff's Office.
A 17-year-old, who goes by "Bloodie," is a 9 Tre Blood, a title he wears proudly. He spends his days on the street, trying to make money.
"Sell drugs, steal, kill, whatever," he said. "I was raised up around Bloods since I was 5 or 6," he said.
Investigators with the sheriff's office document gang activity daily. It is no longer just a "city" problem.
"We're starting to see problems with graffiti out in the county," Dodson said.
Authorities are also seeing more girls and more white teens joining gangs.
"Kids who you wouldn't think would get involved with gangs are," Hoskins said.
Officers said prevention and intervention are key. Hoskins and Dodson teach gang awareness classes in the schools.
"We go over what your retirement plan is as a gang member. There are only two plans: death and in jail," Dodson said.
Durham is one of the few counties with a prosecutor dedicated solely to gang crime. Assistant district attorney John Phillips handles more than 200 gang-related cases every year.
"It runs the gamut from sex offenses to homicides to attempted murders," he said. "If we didn't have gang-related crimes in Durham, our crime rate would drop so dramatically that you wouldn't be doing this story," he said.
Durham police do not keep stats on how much gangs affect the overall crime rate, but they say it has increased. Recently, the department doubled the size of its gang unit.
"We've done a lot of license checks. We've done a lot of jump-outs. We've arrested a lot of people," said Sgt. Howard Alexander, of the Durham Police Department.
Alexander said fighting gangs has to be a community effort.
"The gangs have a saying: If you don't get love from your family, we'll show you love," he said.
"My mom wants me out of the gang, but I'm already in. Once you're in, you're in for life," Bloodie said. "I wish I was not raised around this; my life would've been much better."
While gang violence has increased over the years, most of it is gang-on-gang crime.