State releases findings on gangs

Comprehensive plan among 5 recommendations

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's gang problem is widespread and poses a significant threat to the general community, a group of lawmakers and community leaders said in a report released Wednesday.

To stem the growing problem, the Gang Prevention Study Committee, created last year by legislators and led by Attorney General Henry McMaster, made five initial recommendations:

• The State Grand Jury should investigate gang-related crimes and gather information on the structure and organization of gangs.

• The state must provide specialized education and training for police and the public service community to effectively combat gang-related crimes.

• The state must have a mandatory, inclusive reporting system to track gang activity through the State Law Enforcement Division.

• Schools, parents, concerned residents and youths must be educated to the dangers of criminal gangs.

• The state must develop a comprehensive plan to combat gang activity, including integration of new programs and ideas into existing gang diversion programs.

The average gang member is between the ages of 15 and 16, and is recruited at age 13, according to information from the Department of Juvenile Justice.

"We do have a gang problem in South Carolina," McMaster said at a news conference announcing the recommendations. "There are a lot of people who don't believe that we do. They're here, and they're here to stay."

The report also found that dropping out of high school, a lack of adult supervision and poverty are significant contributors to gang involvement, he said.

McMaster said DJJ's Teen After School Centers have succeeded in keeping kids away from gangs.

The report also recommends adding a box to police incident reports that officers can check if gang activity is suspected.

The checked box would allow the State Law Enforcement Division, which collects police reports, to keep track of gang activity, McMaster said.

"You can't manage a problem unless you first measure it," he said.

The committee had no estimated cost for the recommendations.