Before it becomes a problem too big to handle, city, county and school leaders are taking steps to suppress street gangs months after a widespread sweep in Rock Hill saw the arrests of several alleged gang members.
On Wednesday, parents and the public will learn about the signs, symbols and other indications that kids and teens might be involved in gang activity, said Sgt. Vince Goggins, gang investigator with the Richland County Sheriff’s Office. Part of the presentation will include reasons why young people join gangs, why gangs are multiplying in the state and why “hybrid gangs” that affiliate with national groups are forming.
“A lot of these groups went underground once we started to make these conspiracy cases against these gang members,” a result of a change in state and federal gang and racketeering laws, Goggins said. “They ... refer to themselves as a clique.”
No matter what they call themselves, Goggins said, the state’s definition that a gang is a group of five or more people committing a pattern of criminal activity doesn’t change – “if they fit that definition, they’re a gang to us,” he said.
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Sponsored jointly by the county’s cities and towns, the event is open to the public and scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. in Rawlinson Road Middle School’s auditorium. Various county police agencies will be on hand for breakout sessions after Goggins’ presentation to respond to questions or concerns from residents, said Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols.
The event comes after a January sweep in Rock Hill involving nearly 80 police officers from different agencies resulted in the arrests of 13 alleged gang members. Those arrested comprised members of 715 FAM, a self-proclaimed group of musical artists who feel police have unfairly typecast them as a gang. Also arrested were members of 901 KOB (Kash Over Broads).
Police said an escalating feud between the rival street gangs manifested in several drive-by shootings, burglaries and armed robberies reported mainly in Rock Hill’s southern neighborhoods late last year.
Three alleged members of 715 FAM have been accused of murder. Their cases are still pending in court.
Other gangs reported in the city include the Weezy Boys and 600 IT groups.
Weeks after the roundup, parents and relatives of the accused complained about the methods used by police during the sweep. They also were angry their loved ones were labeled as gang members. But, after several parents met with Rock Hill Police Chief Chris Watts, many of those concerns have tapered off, said Melvin Poole, president of the Rock Hill NAACP chapter.
“A lot of things they just didn’t understand,” said Poole, who will attend Wednesday’s event.
Goggins said Wednesday’s presentation will discuss parental denial as a factor contributing to a growth in gangs. After speaking with area police, Goggins considers Rock Hill’s gang issues to be similar to others around the state.
“We’re seeing more of the hybrid-type gangs that are forming,” he said, adding that these groups are “almost going back to the way things used to be,” with established territories and neighborhoods, colors and formal names.
Wednesday’s event will serve to “lay out the problem,” Echols said, before attendees can sit in on smaller group discussions about gang activity in their area.
“Law enforcement has its finger on the pulse of the community,” Echols said. “This isn’t about trying to discourage wholesome activity. It’s about ... intimidation ... drive-by shootings, breaking and entering.”
Echols added: “When weapons are involved, when drugs are involved, when money is involved,” it makes a “bad recipe for nothing but trouble.”