Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gangs in the City: A Mixed Message; Sheriff's Representatives Give Contrasting Assessments on How Serious Area's Problem Is

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gangs in the City: A Mixed Message; Sheriff's Representatives Give Contrasting Assessments on How Serious Area's Problem Is

Article excerpt

Byline: Derek Gilliam & Denise Smith Amos

The Sheriff's Office sent a somewhat mixed message this week about gangs and their activities in Duval County.

Representatives of the office said gangs aren't a major issue in Jacksonville, yet the law enforcement agency recognizes 43 gangs with hundreds of members citywide.

The statements came on the heels of a school meeting Wednesday where gang activity was discussed, and contradicted what a gang unit detective told a Times-Union reporter after the presentation.

"Gangs are a big problem," detective Leon Brown said.

At least in Jacksonville, that's not the case, gang unit Lt. Derrick Lewis said Thursday.

Lewis fielded questions at an unscheduled news conference and tempered some information provided at the school meeting.

Lewis said the Sheriff's Office shared information about gangs at Raines High School because the School Board requested the presentation and not because of indications gang activity is on the rise.

In fact, Lewis said gang membership is decreasing.

At the school presentation, Brown taught teachers, school administrators and several dozen parents about how to spot gang signs, clothing, tattoos and other signs that point to gang involvement.

Brown told a group of 45 people that just because a student wears a particular local gang's colors or even sports a gang tattoo doesn't mean it's too late to intercede. By pulling those students aside, calling their parents and generally letting them know they're being watched, educators could stop a gang conflict at school before it starts, he said.

Organizers of the meeting and Brown made it clear that gang activity and the potential for it is happening in a variety of Jacksonville neighborhoods and Duval schools.

Brown said that police have identified between 1,000 and 2,000 young men and boys as gang members or associates and that the recent nightly shooting sprees are linked to gangs.

One of the slides presented at Raines on Wednesday put the number of gang members at about 800, but Brown told the audience those statistics were old and the number was closer to 1,600. …

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