Community comes together to address youth crime

Published 10:21 am Monday, July 18, 2016

AURORA — An increase in gang activity, juvenile delinquency, weapon offenses and assaults has a new coalition working together to put a stop to youth crime in Aurora.

Joint investigations between Aurora and Washington police departments and the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office have led to arrests, with more to come as investigations continue, according to Aurora Police Chief Michael Harmon. Law enforcement has also identified rivalries between youth in Aurora and Washington, Harmon said.

Now Harmon is being proactive, reaching out to community organizations and churches to help stop the youth violence before it gets worse.

“With Aurora being so small, we have the unique opportunity to identify potential issues and intervene on a quick and personal level,” Harmon said.

On July 11, a brainstorming session to figure out ways to offset the negative behavior with the positive was held, and for the past two months, the police department has been working with Aurora Recreation Department, Beaufort County Schools Summer Feeding Program, the nonprofit Lydia’s House, community watch and other outreach organizations to redirect the youth to healthy, positive activities and interactions, Harmon said.

“Our goal is to get everyone communicating on the same page and attack the issues of youth violence from multiple angles. We hope these efforts from all involved will result in saving lives and spirits of local youth. It will take the entire community’s involvement and commitment, both now and long-term, to make a positive impact on these troubled youth,” Harmon said.

Pastor Barry Squires, with St. Peter’s Baptist Church in Aurora, said churches have come together to strengthen outreach in the community and increased fun activities, such as movie days, and programming to keep youth engaged.

“As faith-based organizations, we are praying for (youth in the community),” Squires said. “We want to keep our young people in these positive learning experiences and keep them in church to keep them in a positive way.”

Another idea in the works is a plan to find them working opportunities — mowing lawns and other odd jobs — which will help create a sense of responsibility and pride in themselves, Squires said.

Squires said the coalition is keeping in mind that the young people involved in recent criminal or delinquent behavior are no strangers to the residents of Aurora.

“We definitely have children who are bringing delinquent behaviors,” Squires said. “But these are someone’s child. It gives us an opportunity to work with families to help these children. We cannot forget that these are our kids. … We’re talking about kids we know and that we have a connection to. We are also talking about law enforcement that is committed to treating everyone with respect and working out problems in the community. We have some options, and I think, together, we can solve the problems in the community.”