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Growing Trend Of Gangs Can Be Reversed, Wake County Group Says

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new report

released Monday about increased gang activity in Wake County suggests that while there is a reason to be concerned, the trend can be reversed if the problem is addressed now.

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    The report, released by the

    Wake County Gang Prevention Partnership

    , says gang activity is infiltrating parts of the county, but has yet to take over.

    According to a recent state survey, Wake County has 1,753 gang members -- the highest in North Carolina. Mecklenburg County is slightly lower at 1,739 and Durham County ranks third at 1,620.

    Wake County authorities define a gang as three or more people who use a common sign or symbol to engage in criminal activity. Currently, there are 12 identified active gangs -- and nearly 40 when including subgroups.

    In a survey conducted by the Partnership, 41 percent of elementary school principals say gang activity has increased in their schools this school year over the last school year. About 46 percent of middle school principals and 75 percent of high school principals report the same thing.

    "What we are mostly seeing is intimidation, harassment, bullying behavior, graffiti and vandalism, but the gangs haven't overtaken our hallways," said Wake County Schools Security Director Russ Smith.

    School resource officers say schools often mirror the community and that means they too are seeing more signs of gangs.

    "When kids are coming into the school in their first year, they have been saying for a while they already have a working knowledge of gangs and how they work," said Wake County Sheriff's Capt. Walt Martin.

    This school year, the Wake County Public School System initiated a new gang policy, in which security officers train teachers on gang trends. From July to December, the new policy has resulted in 268 suspensions from gang-related activity.

    From schools to neighborhoods, members of the Partnership say it is a signal that everyone must take action.

    "We have an escalating and dangerous threat," said Wake County Human Services Community Health Director Gibbie Harris.

    After its yearlong study, in which it talked with law enforcement officers, community members and school leaders, the Partnership has developed a list of strategies to tackle gang activity.

    One key is prevention, which right now is not funded. Currently, there is really only one Wake County program that specifically deals with gang intervention, but program leaders say that is not enough, having worked with only 100 families over the past year.


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