Gang intervention tackles crime

Area law enforcement agencies attempted to prevent more gang violence in Catawba County with an intervention program for known offenders.

Police officers from every agency in the county attended the first gang call-in March 3 in Hickory City Council Chambers. The call-in is part of the Catawba County Gang Initiative, funded through the N.C. Governor's Crime Commission.

"The people at the call-in are people who are headed in the wrong direction and have been known to participate in gang activity," said Conover Police Chief Steve Brewer.

Law enforcement agencies and representatives from community organizations attend the call-in to talk with alleged gang members about their options beyond gang involvement. About 15 candidates arrived at the call-in, where law enforcement officers told them they needed to get on the right path or face lengthy jail time.

Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid said gang violence and drug activity are often related, and targeting known gang members helps clear the streets of other crime, too.

"If you've got one drug dealer out there, you've got too many," Reid said.

Officers planned for the first call-in for about 18 months. They compiled information about known offenders and told the offenders to come to the call-in. Brewer said because many of the offenders are on probation, they were required to attend the event or be in violation of their probation.

Officials at the call-in provided opportunities for housing, employment skills, counseling, continuing education and spiritual guidance.

Brewer said five of the candidates attending the call-in requested information about programs to help them turn their lives around. An additional two people requested resource forms in several days after the call-in.

"I think it did go well," said Newton Police Chief Don Brown. "We had a lot of folks at the table, as far as law enforcement officers."

To date, two of the seven candidates who requested resource forms started interviews for programs to help improve their lives.

"They're pretty much told it's a new way of doing business in Catawba County," Brewer said. "We know who they are, and if their violence continues, we will take them down."

The March 3 was the first call-in for the program, and officers said they hope to have more in the future.

"Time will tell how successful it will be, but I think we really got some folks' attention," Brown said.

The Catawba County Gang Initiative is based on the High Point Police Department's Intervention Model, which reduced crime significantly in the area since the program's implementation.