Study’s purpose is to quantify gang activity

Published 6:30 am Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Staff Writer

A study is under way in Washington and Beaufort County to determine the amount, if any, of gang activity in the community.
One local law-enforcement officer said it is an important first step in the understanding and prevention of gangs.
“It is an extremely valuable tool,” said Mick Reed, Washington’s police chief. “Every community faces the potential of gang activity. Our hope and our goal is to get ahead of the game.”
The study is being conducted by researcher Linda Hester for Pamlico Pals, a local youth-mentoring group that is part of the Governor’s One-on-One Volunteer Programs, on behalf of the Beaufort County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council.
Similar assessments are under way in Hyde, Perquimans, Martin and Tyrrell counties.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to get a baseline of information about gang activity and community concerns about gang activity,” said Ann Barnes, program director for Pamlico Pals.
The Gang Assessment Study is funded by a $4,000 grant from the N.C. Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. That grant is part of $5 million appropriation to the state from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to William Lassiter, the department’s director of communications.
Beaufort County is one of 70 counties that received some $2.5 million in funding to either study gang activity or to provide gang-intervention programs within the county. Those counties who complete gang-assessment studies this year will be able to compete for $2.5 million in funding next year for gang-prevention programs if their assessments show the need for such programs, Lassiter said.
It is believed that when the assessments are completed, North Carolina will be the first state in the nation to have a statewide snapshot of its gang activity, he said.
This statewide snapshot will allow North Carolina to better combat gangs across the state and regions within the state to work together to combat the problem, he said.
“These local assessments will drive decisions at the state level,” Lassiter said. “They will give us a comprehensive picture of gang activity across the state.”
As part of the assessment, researchers will work with local police officers and sheriff’s deputies to study criminal convictions that have a possible gang influence, interview community leaders and survey residents about their perceptions of gang activities in the county, Barnes said.
Copies of the survey are scheduled to be distributed to residents throughout the county from various agencies that have agreed to participate and to students, faculty and staff at Washington High School and P.S. Jones Middle School and parents of students at the two schools during the coming months, Barnes said.
The school-based survey will include 10 questions that are intended to discover if young people in the area feel pressure to join a gang, if they think criminal gangs are active in the community and discover any concerns they have about issues affecting their safety, including possible criminal activity, domestic violence, drugs, graffiti, unemployment, unkempt vacant property and vandalism in their neighborhoods.
Distribution of the school-based survey — to be completed anonymously — was recently OK’d by a committee of the Beaufort County Board of Education charged with addressing personnel and curriculum issues.
The information from the surveys and other research is scheduled to be compiled in June, and a report will be issued on the findings, Barnes said.