Citizens resist gangs

Residents and community leaders convened for a town hall meeting Thursday in City Hall to find a solution to the increasing gang activity in Tallahassee.

“We will be together in this community in regard to this (gang activity). We will not have this to adversely affect our community,” Mayor John Marks said.

In order to make a good delinquent or gang member it takes a period of 14 years, according to Buddy Streit, president of the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Bend.

To make a good delinquent everything has to go wrong, not once but over and over again. The home, the church, the school and the community have to each go wrong. Their friends have to let him or her down not once but over and over again.

“Then after 14 years of that…you may have a good delinquent. All these things have to work for our kids to be involved in gangs,” Streit said.

Marks said that Tallahassee has been dealing with gangs for the past 10 years, but due to regional influences, the gangs are attempting to spread their wings. He said this issue has spread as far as Gadsden and Wakulla County.

“Gangs are not just a law enforcement problem but a community problem,” Marks said.

Investigator Derek Friend said the Tallahassee Police Department has identified 120 gang members in the area in the past 18 months. Also in that duration of time, TPD has documented 18 incidents of gang-related activities, which have led to a number of arrests.

Friend said the gangs have spread through all parts of the community from the Southside to as far north as Killearn.

“Gangs don’t shy in one particular corner,” he said.He also said this issue is not localized.

“Nationally there are increases in gang activity. They are continually seeking to expand and grow,” Friend said. This is the only way gangs can function, he said.

Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell was in attendance to discuss the increasing gang issue with concerned residents. Campbell said when people think of gangs, they think about cities like Chicago, Los Angeles or Miami, not Tallahassee.

“We are not any of those places, but we do have active gangs,” Campbell said. In the past 15 months there have been 30 news articles about gang activity, Campbell said. He agreed with Streit that children are lacking strong family structures and a sense of security, which leads them to join gangs.

“We must work together to strengthen our partnership between government and community groups to stop the spread of gangs throughout our community,” Campbell said.

Leaders are looking toward a community-wide strategy to address this issue.

Streit said 2,350 students were held back last year and “(it’s) all our fault.”

“One of the most important times in our child’s life is from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., every single day,” Streit said. He said if kids don’t find quality after-school programs, they will find something negative.

But resident Hildred Green said there needs to be an alternative solution. “What happens to those kids that want to have something to do, but their parents aren’t financially able to bus their kids back and forth from the Boys and Girls Club?” she asked.

To report gang activity, residents can call anonymously to Crime Stoppers at (866) 979 0922, or the non-emergency number at (850)891-4200. Residents can contact Investigator Friend to report incidents or to present community solutions at (850) 891-4760.