Wake County Towns Go On Offensive Against Gangs
Posted February 2, 2006 1:39 a.m. EST
GARNER, N.C. — Wake County is one of the top counties in the state for reported gang activity. As a matter of fact, Wake and Harnett counties have some of the largest concentrations of reported gangs in the state, with more than 20.
Cumberland County is next with between 11 and 19 gangs. Durham, Orange, Nash and Wilson counties report no more than 10 different groups. The Governor's Crime Commission gathered this information from 2004.
Talk to any gang expert or law enforcement officer, and they'll say that graffiti with known gang symbols, like certain initials or a five-pointed star, are the first sign of trouble. Such markings are popping up around Wake County, and even creeping into small towns such as Garner.
"We've seen an increase over the last several years," said Garner police representative Joe Binns.
It's a sign of a criminal element that worries town leaders and the men and women charged with enforcing the law.
"What we're seeing are the gang signs coming up," said Binns. "We're seeing the five-pointed star. We're seeing the six-pointed star, and basically gangs marking their territory."
But as fast as the graffiti appears, the town wants to get rid of the markings. To make that happen, Garner wants to make the town off limits to graffiti, period. An ordinance is in the works to ban all forms of graffiti and give the town some muscle in getting it cleaned up.
"We had no enforcement tool of making the property owner clear it up," said Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams. "With this proposed ordinance, we'll have something in place."
And it's not just Garner trying to curb gang activity before it gets out of hand. Other Wake County towns like Knightdale are making it tougher for gangs to operate in their jurisdiction. The town has a 10 p.m. curfew, and teens cannot purchase spray paint and markers.
For now, Garner plans to focus on getting rid of graffiti.
"If you can get that building cleared up or that business cleaned up, there would be no more markings on it," said Binns. "The chance of them coming back and hitting that building again are a lot lower."
The Garner Town Board will get its first look at the graffiti ordinance next week. After that, Garner residents will have their say, in a public hearing set for Feb. 21.