Local News

Wake schools: Higher gang numbers don't tell full story

Posted August 21, 2008 5:11 p.m. EDT
Updated August 22, 2008 3:47 p.m. EDT

— West Lake Middle School is one of the many Wake County public schools showing an increase in gang activity, according to numbers provided Thursday by the Wake County Public School System.

It went from zero reported gang-related incidents to nine in a little more than a year.

But West Lake principal Greg Decker says part of the reason the numbers are up is that school employees are more aware of what to look for, and that isn't necessarily violence.

Zero, Decker says, probably wasn't the result of there not being any gang activity the year before.

"I don't know that there is a school that is really a zero," he said. "And if you believe that, then I think there could really be a potential for problems, you know? You've got to see the elephant if the elephant is in the room"

Gang-related incidents in the Wake County Public School System for the 2007-2008 school year were up 33 percent – 25 percent in high schools and 46 percent in middle schools – from the previous school year.

Twelve of the system's 32 middle schools saw an increase over the previous year – including Dillard Drive, which saw 27 more incidents, and Carnage Middle School, which saw 23 more – while 10 schools saw a decrease. Among the 25 high schools, 10 showed an increase, nine a decrease – including Broughton High School, which moved from 40 incidents to 29.

Greater gang awareness helps create safer schools, school officials say, and in many cases, helps prevent potential crime and violence.

Greg Thomas, director of communications for the school system, says that approximately 81 percent of the reported gang incidents were for "representing," which includes behavior such as students flashing gang signs, drawing gang symbols on notebooks, using gang terminology and wearing gang-affiliated clothing or jewelry.

Systemwide, the school district has developed several training programs for staff, including a basic gang-awareness training that review the district's policy on gangs and covers basic gang identification. There is also an advanced training that covers how to address gang activity through suppression, intervention and prevention.

It also offers counseling to and training for parents if they call the schools.

And schools, like West Lake Middle, also address gang issues in staff meetings and hold awareness events.

"We're trying to be proactive, not reactive," Decker said. "These gangs are flexible, agile, and you've got to stay ahead. Well, I'd never say that we're ahead, but we've got to stay with them."