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Gangs may be growing in area
Det Tracey Howard
Det. Tracey Howard - photo by Photo by Lauren Hunsberger
Signs your child might be involved with a gang:

• Dress (wearing certain colors)
• Graffiti materials (spray cans, paint)
• Gang bibles typically kept with the kids
• Weapons
• Behavior changes  “Usually that’s the first sign,” HPD Det. Howard said. “Grades start to decline.”
Like many social trends, gang activity in Liberty County is consistently evolving and expanding, according to HPD Gang Violence Det. Tracey Howard.
The Hinesville Police Department detective told community leaders at a Rotary Club meeting last week that after monitoring activity over the years he believes what used to be small pockets of gangs are now joining together or meshing with branches of larger, national gangs.
“We’ve seen natural enemies joining forces in some of these drive-bys we’ve been seeing lately,” Howard said. “They will eventually come together and band into a bigger enterprise.”
He said this level of organization could also be the reason for recent spikes in daytime burglaries.
“We’ve made 26 arrests in the last year in connection with burglaries,” he said. “Ninety percent of those arrested were involved with street gangs,” Howard said.

The origin

Howard believes, contrary to what some people believe, gangs and organized crime in the area don’t arise from economic need.
“My experience is that our gangs do not arise from a need to further their existence.” Howard said. “Most of them come from middle class families. They’re not impoverished. It’s not from a need to support themselves.”
More often, he said, children adopt a gang lifestyle because they harbor a need to join in with a group and feel accepted. He hypothesized that a lack of stable family life is probably the source of these feelings and cause of their actions.
“It’s easier for them to get negative attention than positive,” Howard said.
Howard said he also spends time looking at the military’s impact on gang activity. He said because of the transient, multicultural nature of the Army, there’s always the threat of new gangs coming to the area or potential new members.

Gangs in schools
Howard believes one of the best ways to combat the problem is to reach and educate children early.
“The numbers are highest for children between middle school and high school,” the detective said.
Liberty County School administrators say they monitor for gang violence constantly.
LCSS board member Carol Guyette, who has sat on the board for more 20 years, has seen many waves of violence through the years. She said they’re constantly working to curb it, especially from gangs.
“The first step was to implement uniforms so that gang members would have a hard time identifying each other,” Guyette said. “Uniforms have helped, but the kids are creative and they find ways to circumvent the intent of the uniforms.”
She said after a full year with uniforms the problem is not erased, but she believes the severity of violence seems to be down among students.
“There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes,” Guyette said of the admistration’s attention to the problem. “The teachers are very aware and they try to turn them around. And, it’s rewarding for them to be able to help.”
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