Law enforcement representatives agreed Sunday that gang activity is a major issue in Catawba County.
During a Catawba County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People branch meeting at Newton City Hall, a panel of police chiefs and officers from nine local jurisdictions answered questions about gangs and other related issues.
Police chiefs and officers from the Hickory, Catawba, Conover, Newton, Maiden, Brookford and Claremont police departments agreed there is currently gang activity in Catawba County.
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen an increase in our violent crimes in our area, and they are mostly in part to gang type activity,” said Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins.
Despite these increases, Adkins said the Catawba County Gang Initiative is helping slow down violent crime.
The initiative, which operates under a state grant received in 2008, is a collaboration between the nine law enforcement jurisdictions in Catawba County that targets top violators in the community.
Adkins said the initiative brings top violators together, offering them alternative programs like a General Education Development (GED) pathway through Catawba Valley Community College.
“Basically, what we want them to do is change their lifestyle,” Adkins said. “If they change their lifestyle, that reduces our violent crimes in our neighborhoods and our jurisdictions.”
On March 3, the initiative brought 14 top violators together at the Hickory City Council chambers.
After offering community testimonials and various alternative resources, four of the violators decided to join the initiative. As of April 10, the other 10 violators have not reoffended.
Yet even with the gang initiative, the officers said budgetary shortfalls limit the extent of what they can do.
Because of this, the nine jurisdictions in Catawba County have a mutual-aid agreement that allows officers in one area to make arrests in another.
“Maiden is a smaller community, so I may not have the luxury of having a specialized gang unit, but I do have the luxury of calling up one of these fellow departments,” said Maiden Police Chief Tracy Ledford.
The different jurisdictions recently put the mutual-aid agreement to work, as they teamed together to take down the Longview Crips. After a three-year investigation of the gang, Adkins said the “criminal enterprise came crumbling down,” with the leader receiving a 26-year sentence in federal prison.
After listening to reports from the officers, meeting attendees posed several ideas of how to increase community awareness of gang activity.
Wes Weaver, of Newton, proposed that Catawba County law enforcement create a website solely devoted to gang awareness and prevention. The potential website can provide citizens with gang-related news, information and pictures of tattoos and graffiti.
Regardless of how the community is made aware, though, Longview Police Department Sgt. Scott Pitts said gang activity is an issue everyone should be familiar with.
“Gang activity really perpetuates everything else,” Pitts said. “Crime leads to drugs, and drugs lead to gangs.”