Local News

Camp teaches children to avoid gangs

Posted September 8, 2009 3:52 p.m. EDT
Updated September 8, 2009 7:00 p.m. EDT

— A special program in Durham is designed to bring gang prevention straight to children most at risk.

Campers at the G.R.E.A.T. Summer Camp visited a youth detention center and juvenile court to learn about the tough realities of the justice system.

“We're not just police officers, we're also humans,” Durham Police Sgt. J. L. Jackson said. “We have fun and we try to make ourselves a resource for the kids as they go back to school.”

The police department's Gang Resistance Education and Training unit started the camp as an extension of its program in schools.

Five years ago, police added gang prevention to the camp's agenda. Officers said they have seen signs of gang activity among children as early as second grade.

“It’s important to catch kids that are at an early age right now because if we don’t catch them at an early age now…we’re gonna lose them to the gangs out there,” Durham Police Officer Larry Watkins said.

Watkins is a G.R.E.A.T. officer stationed at Shepherd Middle School.

“When I was in sixth-grade, he (Watkins) came to every sixth-grade class and talked to us about gangs,” camper Justin Johnson said. “If you get into a gang, you can either get killed or go to jail and I don’t want either of those things.”

During the camp, students also participated in a mock trial. Camper China Hounshell said the trial was a valuable lesson all teens could benefit from.

“It helps you understand that you should do the right thing instead of the bad thing,” Hounshell said. “If it happens to you again and you go to a real court, then you get a real punishment, like go to jail or something.”

According to the state Department of Public Instruction, by the time students reach high school gangs will be present in 64 percent of classrooms.

During the week, the kids also toured the Durham jail.