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Springfield welcomes a local expert to present the “Evolution of the Street Gang” tonight at Central High School. As KSMU’s Samuel Crowe reports, the event will focus on awareness and prevention of gang activity in the city, which over the past couple years has led to an increase in crime.
The typical stereotype of gang members, wearing same colored clothing and flashing gang signs on street corners, is no longer a reality, says Sergeant Justin Gargus, supervisor for the Springfield Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit. He says a decade ago, most of the gang activity in Springfield was comprised of individuals who migrated to the city from other parts of the country.
And now, he says Springfield gangs are mostly made up of people who grew up in the area. Gargus says while gang activity occurs throughout the city, it’s most active in the center city area.
“We’re seeing gangs that are much less organized. They’re smaller gangs, just five or six individuals as opposed to a large gang. They may or may not be flying their colors. They are very subtle about it. Most of the individuals will not admit to their affiliation. So we’ll have to base our investigations on – as far as trying to confirm them – on tattoos, who they’re affiliating with, the types of crimes they’re committing,” Gargus said.
And he says this has made it harder on law enforcement to catch and prosecute gang members. So a part of the presentation tonight will focus on identifying local gangs and their activity, as discussed by Sergeant David Starbuck, president of the Midwest Gang Investigators Association. Starbuck has collaborated closely with the Springfield Police Department to pinpoint gang culture in the city, holding training sessions for law enforcement, parole officers, and corrections officers.
Gargus says though a lot of the violent crime in the city occurs amongst gang members, often times it isn’t gang motivated. By that he means local gang members have taken on a more “every man for himself” mentality, often sparring over drugs, money and women, as opposed to territory and status.
This sort of disparate gang activity has made it even harder on residents to identify the bad guys.
“I think the increase in crime rates over the past year, year and a half is frightening to me as a mother,” Moore said.
That’s Mary Moore, prevention specialist with the Community Partnership of the Ozarks who serves on its gang task force. She says part of tonight’s presentation will focus on gang awareness and prevention. She says if the community doesn’t act now, gang activity in the city could get worse.
“I think Springfield is on sort of a precipice, where right now it could go either way. We could work together as a community and decrease the level of crime, or it could get out of control,” Moore said.
So to help protect the city from gang activity, Moore says it’s important for residents to take an active role in their neighborhoods – get involved in your neighborhood watch, your neighborhood association, work to remove graffiti. And most importantly, get to know the kids in your neighborhood. Know them by name, find out their hobbies, and talk to their parents. She says it’s easier to prevent a kid from joining a gang than to get the kid out once he or she is already in.
“Work together as a cohesive unit to keep them safe and to provide them with positive activities and positive mentors and role models within both the home life and the community and school,” Moore said.
The event will take place tonight at 6:30 at Central High School in Springfield. It’s free and open to the public. Click here for more information.
For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.